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

 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.


 Very attractive and pretty little girl 2 years old.


 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
 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
  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

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If your town must have a reputation, it’s not bad being known as the place that throws the best parties. From before the Civil War to beyond WWI, the festivals at Healdsburg were frequent and famous, drawing crowds of thousands even in horse and buggy days.

The Santa Rosa papers treated these events like hometown affairs, showering the preparations and celebration itself with the kind of laudatory attention given the town’s own Rose Festival. Who would be named queen, and who would be her attendants? Was a marching band coming from San Francisco? Santa Rosans wanted to know these details because they were sure to attend in force. Despite being the largest town in the area, there wasn’t much to do in Santa Rosa; the town didn’t even have a single public park. Yes, there was the Grace Brother’s beer garden at the corner of Fourth St. and McDonald Ave. but that was privately owned so it wasn’t always open, and worse, suffered from decades of neglect; the 1908 fire map reported structures were “old and dilapidated.” If you liked roller skating or swimming the skating pavilion and pool were open most of the year, but such options fell far short of a true park, where kids could frolic as the rest of the family stretched out and picnicked on grass or shore. For those primal Victorian-era pleasures, Santa Rosans took the electric trolley to places like Graton, where thousands waved the stars and stripes at the 1906 Fourth of July. Or they rode the train to fruit or gardening celebrations held at Cloverdale or Healdsburg. it was a bit like Sonoma County was burdened with a wealthy uncle who just expected he could drop by unannounced upon his poor relations to mooch a holiday dinner.

Healdsburg’s festive traditions began in 1857 with the “May Day Festival and Knighthood Tournament,” which was quite Renaissance Faire-ish, complete with jousting and other competitions from days of yore. (“Healdsburg’s Festivals and Parades” by Hannah Clayborn is the primary source for much of my information on the background of these events, along with “Splash from the Past” by Holly Hoods.) The year following Santa Rosa’s first Rose Festival in 1894, Healdsburg shifted likewise to a floral fest; while there were still men in armor clanking about the sidelines, the local paper reported that 5,000 were drawn to the town to witness the mile-long pageant of elaborate floats.

The last street flower parade was held in 1904, and was followed by an incident that might have gotten dangerously out of hand. The Windsor Herald published an anonymous poem titled, “In Healdsburg” that poked fun at the town in a most unfunny way. Besides calling the residents “an anarchistic bunch” – a potent insult for the day – there was a racial slur against the queen of the festival, Isabel Simi, the 18 year-old daughter of an Italian immigrant. (That same year, this young woman found herself the manager of the Simi Winery when her father and uncle unexpectedly died.) Healdsburg was outraged, and an effigy of Ande Nowlin, editor of the Windsor paper, was burned in front of the Union Hotel. In fact, they were so outraged that they saved part of the effigy to burn again the following day, when a crowd that stretched beyond two blocks participated in a mock funeral for the editor. “There was no doubt as to the excitement and feeling of resentment the lines had caused in Healdsburg,” the Press Democrat understated.

Perhaps fearing that festival mania had become a bit too manic, it was four years before there was another Healdsburg extravaganza. The 1908 Water Carnival was worth the wait.

The concept of an event centered upon the Russian River was not new; Gaye LeBaron wrote there were earlier “Logger’s Picnics” in 19th century summers, with lotsa log rollin’ and wood choppin’ fun. Monte Rio held a “Venetian Water Carnival” in 1907, complete with a parade of decorated boats. But the Healdsburg Water Carnival raised high the bar; with more than a generation of experience hosting such blowout events, the Healdsburgers put on quite a show. A brass band greeted arriving trains and led visitors to “Lake Sotoyome” (now Memorial Beach, but with a higher water level set by the dam). San Francisco’s Olympic Club performed a high diving exhibition from the railroad bridge, there was a firemen’s tournament with competing departments from Marin and Sonoma Counties, and a concert by the San Francisco firemen’s band. After dark there was a grand ball on a dance floor by the beach, fireworks, and a midnight farewell as the orchestra played “Home, Sweet Home.”

(RIGHT: The lost Van Gogh, “Carnival on the Water at Healdsburg”)

But ah, the centerpiece. The grand water parade was truly grand; the floats – now literally floating – were larger and more stately than anything that could have been pulled by horse or motorcar down Main street. On one float Dr. Morse’s wife, Bertha, posed as Cleopatra; on another the festival’s queen and maids of honor – check out the elegant feathered hats – were surrounded by giant artificial water lilies. The Rosenberg and Bush department store presented a float with “Swastika good luck emblems.” And then there was the “Monstrous Swan” entry from banker E. B. Snook, the secrets of ifs artful construction sadly now lost.

The water carnival made the old street parades seem rather flat, and gone were poor sightlines from the crowded sidewalks. Spectators could watch the water parade from the riverbank, from the railroad bridge above, or even from a boat, making themselves a bit of background in the show. The many surviving photographs of the 1908 and 1909 water carnivals also differ in being unposed. In every picture are seen people in motion – boats being pulled or rowed into position; a man in derby leaning forward from the prow of a rowboat for a closer look; a dozen or more kids packed tightly together on the edge of a dock, their toes dangling barely above the river. These are scenes that suggest paintings by great impressionists such as Monet or Van Gogh, and there are some photos that make one ponder what Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte” might have looked like if viewed from the riverside, while riding in a rowboat garlanded deep with California poppies.

Healdsburgers revived the water carnival in 2011, and are planning an even greater event on July 14, 2012. Float applications are now being accepted, although the first guideline is a notice that one particular design is reserved: “The Swan is taken. (we have a series of engineers and very brilliant people creating a replica – sorry).” Ed Snook would be so proud.

(Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library)


Success Smiles on the Healdsburg Carnival
Day and Night of Pleasure for Everybody–Beautiful Illuminations of City and Lake–The Prize Winners–Fireworks Display–Queen Opens Ball

Fine weather, the presence of thousands of merry people, a firemen’s tournament, coronation of a gracious sovereign, grand pageant on Lake Sotoyome, aquatic sports and dancing in the day time, and magnificent illuminations up town, and on the lake, a splendid display of fireworks on the water, and a grand ball at night, with plenty of band music and entertainment at all times, made the first annual water carnival which was the glory of Healdsburg on Saturday a triumphant success.

The Ladies’ Improvement Club, the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and all those who contributed to make the water carnival a success must have felt happy and well repaid for their effort by the crowds that congregated within the gates of the ever loyal city to the north. People came from far and near to attend the pageant. They were all pleased and compliments were bestowed on all hands. It was a proud day for Healdsburg, one long to be remembered.

At early morning the people began to flock into the city. Hundreds of people arrived from Mendocino county and northern Sonoma on the special train from points north. From the south two big trains carried hundreds more. Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cloverdale, Ukiah, Geyserville, Sebastopol, and all way points contributed well to swell the crowd. All roads led to Healdsburg, and from ten o’clock in the morning when the parade formed at the depot and marched up town until the last strains of “Home, Sweet Home,” had been played by the orchestra at the close of the grand ball at midnight in the city and lake rang with merriment.

In the firemen’s tournament in which the Petaluma, Healdsburg, and Mill Valley teams competed, the first prize was won by the Petaluma department, under Chief Meyers. Healdsburg was second and Mill Valley, third. Petaluma captured another prize, her float being awarded first premium.

Of course the main feature of the afternoon was the coronation of Queen Winifred, which took place on the royal barge on the lake. It was a pretty coronation scene. The band played, the people cheered, and Queen Winifred’s joyous reign was auspiciously inaugurated.

Queen Winifred’s maid of honor were…


Following the coronation came the parade of gaily decorated flats, rowboats, canoes, etc. The floats were of striking design. The Healdsburg Woman’s Improvement Club Float, “Cleopatra,” met with hearty recognition at the hands of the assembled throngs. On the float Mrs. Edgar Morse represented Cleopatra…

The Petaluma float, representing “California,” garlanded with a wealth of California poppies, won first prize. The float representing a large white swan, in which the Misses Snook were seated, entered by E. B. Snook, won second prize. Other notable floats were entered by the Woodmen of the World, the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs of Healdsburg. In the row boat division in which there were many entries, the one representing “Water Lilies,” in which the Misses Tully rowed, won first prize, and the boat entered by Joe Miller took second prize. The Healdsburg Red Men, in true Indian costume, paddled canoes and were given much attention. The water parade was a big success…


At night–and Healdsburg people can justly feel proud of this feature–the plaza and business center of the town was brilliantly illuminated with strings of vari-colored electric globes. The City Hall was outlined by clusters of lights. In addition the business establishments were prettily decorated. In the plaza, the firemen’s band from San Francisco gave a concert in the first part of the evening. Thousands of people witnessed the fireworks and illuminations on Lake Sotoyome. The Healdsburg band played for the concert and dancing on the platform on the lake. The grand ball was opened by Queen Winifred.

Here’s to continued success and progress for Healdsburg. And here’s a prediction that the second water carnival next year will be an even greater success than the first.

– Press Democrat, August 16, 1908

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It was a story that O’Henry might have written, and the widow Higginson could have been a character from one of his tales. And not to give too much away, O’Henry’s short stories always ended with a twist. Read on.

It was just after the Fourth of July in 1907 when Gertrude met her husband-to-be, Tom. He was the chef-owner of a successful restaurant in Healdsburg that served French-American food; that summer the San Francisco Call even ran an item praising his restaurant, and particularly his way with a beefsteak. He was taking a camping vacation on the coast when he happened to meet Gertrude at a summer resort. Over tea, sparks flew. He cut his vacation short and returned to Healdsburg, where she soon joined him. Ten days later, she was sporting a diamond engagement ring and they were planning to be married as soon as possible.

Gertrude was already a widow at age thirty, and was five years younger than Tom. She was quite pretty, dressed nicely, and had some talent at piano playing. She also was well off, thanks to a savvy investment in gold mine stocks. One more thing to know about Tom and Gertrude: She was white, he was Chinese.

It was illegal for them to marry in California; the state’s anti-miscegenation law dated back to 1880, forbidding weddings between a white person and “a Negro, mulatto, or Mongolian.” Not all states had such a racist law, however, so Gertrude and Tom were soon on the train to Seattle, where they were wed. Their interracial marriage and out-of-state flight was unusual enough to make the newspapers in San Francisco and Reno.

Coverage of the events by the Santa Rosa papers was fairly predictable. The Santa Rosa Republican called him a “Celestial” and a “son of Confucius,” regrettable stereotypes that were old-timey but still commonly used by even progressive newspapers in that era. But at least the Republican gave him some measure of the respect he deserved; the Press Democrat’s coverage ended with a dismissive, you’ll-never-be-as-good-as-us swipe that while he was successful, “he is a Mongolian, just the same.”

Tom Chun was certainly a man of accomplishment. Born about 1870, he emigrated at age eleven and settled in Healdsburg while still in his teens. He acclimated into American culture, spoke and wrote fluent English, and was adept at the card games that were the primary social activity of Americans in that day. That he was in turn embraced by the community is shown in the description of his wedding reception in Healdsburg, where “a large company of doctors, lawyer and others were there with their wives.”

But here’s the next twist in the story: Within three months of their marriage, Gertrude disappeared.

A notice appeared in the Healdsburg newspaper: “Gertrude May Chun (formerly Mrs. Higginson) having left my bed and board, I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by her after this date, November 13, 1907. TOM CHUN.” Tom also swore out a warrant against her, charging that she had stolen his gold watch and chain.

Was Gertrude a con artist who only married Tom with the intent of theft? This is reminiscent of the 1904 two-week marriage of wealthy hop-grower Ah Quay to a woman of Hispanic and Indian ancestry, who disappeared after having expensive dental work that included gold fillings. Maybe it’s a coincidence that there were two such similar incidents in little Sonoma County within a few years, or perhaps prosperous Chinese immigrant men were not infrequently tricked into sham marriages. Scholars. sharpen your pencils.

What happened to Gertrude is not known, except that it’s likely that she didn’t return to Tom; he’s again single in the 1910 census, and the 1920 census shows he has a new wife named Sena. But we do know this: Her name when they met was not really Gertrude May Higginson.

As it turns out, “Gertrude Higginson” happened to be a very unusual name in the U.S. at that time. There was only one Mrs. Gertrude Higginson, and she apparently spent her entire life in Rhode Island and Connecticut, married to a steam fitter. Gertrude May Higginson is absolutely unique; this was the maiden name of a woman wed to a Kansas farmer. Both women were about the same age as the woman who married Tom Chun. While it can’t be proven that one of the Gertrudes didn’t leave her husband and child, travel across the country to become a bigamist and roll the poor guy for his jewelry, then return home and spend the rest of her life in the bosom of her family, it’s, um, unlikely. The woman in question probably made all or part of the name up, or happened to know one of the real Gertrudes at some time in her life.

There are some clues, however, about this mystery woman’s past. “She hails from Goldfield, Nevada,” the Republican reported, “where she states that she has relatives and that others of her family are living at Coronado, in southern California.” Goldfield was one of the last great boomtowns in the West, and in that year it was the largest city in Nevada, boasting a 195-room hotel (which still stands), three newspapers, and a saloon with 80 bartenders on duty. Coronado is a small island just offshore from San Diego that had (and still has) a luxury resort frequented by royalty and presidents and others world famous. What they had in common was that both areas would have been well known to prostitutes in that day.

Aside from the wealthy who stayed at the resort there were few who lived on the island, most of them workers at the hotel. But about 2,000 feet across the water from Coronado Island was San Diego’s infamous Stingaree District, which at the time was a booming tenderloin near the U.S. Naval base. An excellent study found that the number of prostitutes in the area approximately tripled between 1900 and that year while the number of saloons doubled.

Anyone who lived in San Diego knew of Coronado, just as anyone who lived in Goldfield would know the supposed source of her fortune, the Mohawk mine, which produced about $5 million of gold in less than four months. The red-light district in Goldfield was even larger than San Diego’s; one contemporary source estimated that there were 500 women working there at one time, making the district virtually a “city onto itself.” A Nevada history web site offers photos of the prostitution cribs, with the names of the women painted on signs by the shack doors.

(RIGHT: “Dance hall girls” at Goldfield’s Jumbo Club. Photo: uncredited from Life, May 11, 1959)

Goldfield and Stingaree were two of the three largest prostitution districts in the western U.S. The last of the trio was San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, which was a short hop from the north county summer resort where Tom happened to meet “Gertrude.”

All this is conjecture, of course. Perhaps nothing was amiss; maybe they just didn’t get along. Maybe Tom Chun misplaced his valuable watch, and “Gertrude” somehow evaded mention in all official records, just as she oddly happened to be associated with every hot spot for prostitution in the West. Maybe it’s a coincidence that she said she was a waitress in Goldfield, and that San Diego study found that “waitress” was the most common profession claimed by prostitutes. Maybe it’s also irrelevant that “Gertrude” speedily married Tom at a time when the women working in the San Diego brothels were almost all younger than her, even though she still had her good looks.

We’ll probably never know if she really was one of the “soiled doves,” but even if she was, pity is in order; it’s doubtful that she ended her days living in a nice cottage in a nice little town with a nice, prosperous husband. Her fate was probably as far from all that niceness as you can imagine.


From Healdsburg, Monday, came a story of romance, love and betrothal. The peace and quietude of the fair city of Sotoyome vale is sadly disrupted by the proclamation of the coming event. Cupid has played a queer prank, and woven with his ribbons of love a heart of the Orient with that of the Occident.

Tom Chun, a celestial, who has lived in Healdsburg for over twenty years, is the party of the Orient, and he is to wed Mrs. Gertrude Higginson, an American by birth, and a comely widow of perhaps thirty years of this world’s life.

Tom Chun keeps a restaurant in the northery [sic] city, and during his thirty-five years of life has accumulated a goodly store of American gold. About two weeks ago, growing weary of the griddle and the flapjack, he held himself to a hunters’ camp on the coast ranges. While passing a summer resort by the way he stopped for a cup of good tea to quench his dusty throat. It was there he met his fate. It was there the comely widow became a reality in the life of this son of Confucius. He was in need of a waitress in his chowchow house and she was in search of just such a position.

Over the tea cups she promised to assist him, on his return to Healdsburg, in dispensing rice to the hungry. Right then he forgot his camping trip, forgot his cue, forgot his joss. He returned the same day to his restaurant and sent for the widow waitress. That was but ten days ago. Today on East street in Healdsburg is a cottage all new with tables of oak and chairs of cherry. Oriental rugs are on the floor and an upright piano stands ready for the touch of the bride’s deft fingers, for she is an accomplished musician.

Monday the couple left on the afternoon train for Seattle, Washington. The laws of this state forbid their marriage here, so they will travel to the northern city to become man and wife.

Personally the bride-to-be is quite a pretty widow and of seeming ordinary intelligence. She is neat and attractive in appearance. She hails from Goldfield, Nevada, where she states that she has relatives and that others of her family are living at Coronado, in southern California. She was a waitress in Goldfield and made considerable money in Mohawk stock. She now wears a brilliant diamond ring, the engagement token from the groom. On her wrist an ivory bracelet of the royal house of Tom Chun rattles.

Tom Chun is an Americanized Celestial. He speaks English fluently and can read and write with ease. At the gaming table he plays pedro with the boys and is an all around sport in games of chance.

They expect to return from the north during the later part of the week, when they will go to housekeeping in their newly furnished cottage. A wedding feast has been promised and “at home” cards will be sent out by Mr. and Mrs. Tom Chun.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 5, 1907
White Woman Infatuated With a Healdsburg Chinaman Goes With Him to Washington to be Married

Mrs. Gertrude Higginson, a white woman who recently came from the mining town of Goldfield, Nevada, and Tom Chun, a Chinaman, started Monday together from Healdsburg to go to the State of Washington to be married.

The laws of Washington provide no such penalties for the crime of miscegenation as do those of California. There neither the parties to the contract nor the clergyman who performs the marriage rites may feel the hand of the law. After Mrs. Higginson has become Mrs. Tom Chun, she and her Mongolian spouse could return to Healdsburg to reside.

Tom Chun has lived in Healdsburg twenty years and runs a restaurant. He long ago cut off his pigtail, and he wears American clothes. But he is a Mongolian, just the same.

– Press Democrat, August 7, 1907

Tom Chun Marries Mrs. Gertrude Higginson

A telegram from Seeattle announces that Tom Chun, the Healdsburg Celestial, and Mrs. Gertrude Higginson, also of that city, were married Wednesday by Justice of the Peace R. R. George. The Rev. J. P. Lloyd, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, refused to marry the couple, declaring the laws of the state did not permit the ceremony between the white woman and the Celestial. The bride broken [sic] down and cried at the refusal of the minister, but was smiling and happy when the justice spoke the words which made the couple husband and wife. The bride declared she was a music teacher and missionary.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 8, 1907

Tom Chun, the Healdsburg Chinaman, who recently went to Seattle to marry a Caucasian woman, Gertrude Higginson, after only a three weeks’ acquaintance, arrived home from the north a few nights ago. The bridal party stopped off of the evening train in Santa Rosa and from here took a carriage to Healdsburg. A reception was tendered them and a large company of doctors, lawyer and others were there with their wives. “Jim,” as the Celestial is familiarly known, has furnished a neat cottage in Healdsburg for the home of himself and bride.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 16, 1907

Tom Yun [sic], the Healdsburg Chinese restaurant man, who a few months ago went to Washington in order to marry Mrs. Gertrude May Higginson, is now looking for his fair white wife. After living with her Celestial husband for a short time, the woman has wearied of her spouse and “flew the coop.” Yun is now after her with a warrant, claiming that she took his gold watch and chain and that this was his separate property.

Soon after Mrs. Yun left her husband and home the man advertised in the Healdsburg papers that he would not be responsible for any debts contracted by her, and that she had “left his bed and board.” It is thought that should the officers find the woman and she agree[s] to return the watch, that would be the end of her prosecution.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 19, 1907

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