December 14 should be a red-letter day at the Press Democrat; it was then in 1912 when Ernest Finley married Ruth Woolsey. Not only was this the founding of a little publishing dynasty which would endure until the PD was sold in 1985, but that date serves as a fair marker for the moment Santa Rosa became a one-newspaper town – five days earlier, editor Finley’s old rival at the Santa Rosa Republican, Allan Lemmon, sold his interests in that paper and retired.

(Detail of 1923 photo of Ernest Latimer Finley at his desk in the Press Democrat office. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Before diving into that history, a few comments about the modern Press Democrat, which just introduced a revamp of the paper. Few may notice the changes – local news on the front page, a weekly outdoors section and more food coverage, amid other tweaks. Publisher Catherine Barnett says over 1,500 commented about what they wanted to see in the PD and her take-away was the readership mainly wanted the paper to keep on doing a fantastic job. She couldn’t even go to a party or wine tasting “without someone wanting to go off in a corner and discuss what mattered most about our coverage.” Apparently the local know-it-alls have mastered the gentle art of flattering criticism to a degree of which I was unaware.

But the real issues are not trivial things such as page layouts or the balance between lifestyle coverage and opinion. That’s a false dichotomy – like asking Santa Rosans whether cinnamon or saffron is their all-time favorite spice. The main problem with today’s Press Democrat is there’s so little of it. The pages are slim and few, with the newspaper nearly disappearing entirely on Mondays and Tuesdays. For years the newsroom has been reduced to an overworked skeleton crew. With rare exceptions – such as the outstanding coverage of the Valley Fire – local news coverage is largely picking low-hanging fruit from press releases, squawks from the police scanner and appeals to readers for story content. Just a few years ago when the PD was flush with profits this would have been called lazy journalism; today you have to feel sorry for everyone involved. Unless Catherine Barnett is able to rebuild the newsroom and offer a more substantial newspaper, she’s only pushing around deck chairs on the Titanic.

Although Santa Rosa was ten times smaller a hundred years ago, the PD still managed to fill three or four pages every day with local news. Some of it appealed to a pretty narrow readership, but better to not risk the item appearing only in the competition. And that was the big difference between then and now: Santa Rosa was a two newspaper town, although that comes with a big asterisk.

Ernest Finley’s Press Democrat was a morning paper focused on Santa Rosa, particularly development and commercial interests. For many years Finley was president of the Chamber of Commerce so it’s no surprise the PD was their voice. Allen Lemmon’s Santa Rosa Republican was a smaller evening paper mostly directed at farmers; every week there was an item covering the doings in each of the small towns in the area.

Until Lemmon’s 1912 retirement, he and Finley were something of Santa Rosa’s editorial odd couple, and not just because of the different Democrat/Republican allegiances. They even looked the part; the two can be seen together in a 1909 Chamber of Commerce group photo with Lemmon looming over Finley’s right shoulder, looking for all the world like a rumpled Walter Matthau, with Finley resembling a tightly-wound Tony Randall.

They were men of different generations. Lemmon was born in 1847 and before coming to Santa Rosa had a career in Kansas, where he was a teacher and superintendent of schools while also editing a weekly paper. He was a progressive in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt and when he bought the Republican in 1887, was a good counterbalance to Thomas Thompson, the Sonoma Democrat editor still nursing a grudge over the South losing the Civil War.

Finley was 23 years younger and had lived in Santa Rosa since childhood. He had no newspaper experience at all when he and two friends began a small paper called the Evening Press in 1895 with him as the publisher and Grant Richards as editor. When the Democrat became available in 1897 the three formed a corporation with bankers Overton and Reynolds and bought it. Less than a year later, Finley became editor of the hybrid Press Democrat after Grant Richards had a nervous breakdown and killed himself with a shotgun.

At the turn of the century Finley was still a young man of 29 and a brash conservative, eager to pick a fight in his paper. The person he most often tried to beat up was poor old Allen Lemmon, while during election years he also defended the status quo and attacked the reformers who wanted to clean up Santa Rosa; for more on those dust-ups, read “THE MANY WARS OF ERNEST FINLEY.”

(Cartoon of Allan B. Lemmon from the San Francisco Call, 1896)

The last salvos in the Finley-Lemmon battle came in February 1911. Finley ‘dissed the Republican as the “Evening Blowhard” and Lemmon shot back by calling him “Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside.” A couple of weeks later they both went nuclear over Fred J. Wiseman’s airmail flight in an exchange where they forgot all about Wiseman and just lobbed insults at one another. No one would have been surprised to find either of them setting bear traps outside the other guy’s door.

But after that, peace. Both newspapers supported women’s suffrage in the historic vote later that year and they even made it through the big elections of 1912 without drawing knives. What happened?

Partial credit probably goes to Finley’s bride-to-be Ruth Woolsey – or at least, his desire to marry and settle down. In late 1911 he pushed a wheelbarrow with a bale of hops ten miles to settle a bet, accompanied by an entourage of twenty-somethings including Ruth, and with the money from the bet he treated them to a night out in San Francisco. Or maybe he decided at age 42 it was time to grow up.

Allan Lemmon likely also just lost the heart to fight. He was 65; even though his newspaper was apparently then entirely edited by partner J. Elmer Mobley, it too seemed old and tired.

As the newlywed Finleys left for their honeymoon, a new company took over the Republican. Among the owners were Rolfe L. Thompson, leader of the reformers in town, and head of the new company was none other than attorney James Wyatt Oates, himself a former editor and writer. For a time the Santa Rosa Republican was a lively read and the arguably the better paper in town, but Finley had the greater readership, and with it greater influence. As WWI approached the Republican settled into being more like the paper it was under Lemmon – the loyal opposition to the Press Democrat, which was to everyone’s loss.

How fortunate for us all that Santa Rosa has its EVENING BLOWHARD. If it were not for that enterprising sheet, we might all still be laboring under the mistaken apprehension that the big show was to be pulled off in Kamchatka or “some other foreign seaport.”

– Press Democrat editorial, February 1, 1911



“The Chinatown Trunk Mystery,” a wierd [sic] melodrama of the old Central Theatre type–and then some–held down the boards Wednesday evening at the Columbia. The performance was about what was to be expected, considering the lurid character of the paper displayed on the billboards about town. A local Chinaman accompanied by a police officer in plain clothes was on hand, ostensibly to represent the Chinese Vice Consul. The latter feature was only part of a somewhat, overdone advertising scheme, however, and fooled nobody except one bright young man connected with the afternoon paper.

– Press Democrat editorial, February 2, 1911



Perhaps the best thing about the performance at the Columbia theater on Wednesday evening was the orchestrations between the acts. Leader Bud Parks and his musicians rendered some lively two steps which were decidedly pleasing. The performance was mediocre, but nevertheless attracted quite a large audience, when the threatening and inclement weather is taken into consideration.

Thee is little chance for acting in the piece, and those who presented it did not attempt the impossible. The protest sent by Consul General Li Young-Yew resulted in Chief of Police John M. Boyes sending an officer with a delegation of three prominent Chinese of the local colony to the theater to see that nothing immoral was permitted. Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside, by grace of its actual owner, attempted some funny stunts in his “dramatic criticism” of the play, and shows his asinine qualities more than previously.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1911


To Lead Miss Woolsey to Altar in Near Future

Some time before the holidays Editor Ernest L. Finley will wed Miss Ruth Woolsey. For some time past the friends of the couple have anticipated the announcement, and now that it is known, they are receiving the congratulations of their wide circle of friends.

Miss Woolsey is the daughter of Frank Woolsey of Woolsey station. She is a social favorite here and around the bay. She is a pretty girl with charming ways, which have made her popular with all who know her.

Mr. Finley is editor of the Press Democrat and needs no introduction to the people of Sonoma county, as he has taken a prominent part in the affairs of this section for some time. He is a member of the Elks and other fraternal organizations.

Owing to death recently in each of the families of the contracting parties, the wedding will be a quiet one.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 14, 1912


Allen B. Lemmon to Dispose of His Interest

Articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company have been filed with County Clerk William W. Felt, Jr. The capital stock of the company is fixed at $24,000, and each member of the board of directors of the corporation has subscribed for two shares of the stock.

The board of directors consists of J. Elmer Mobley, James W. Oates, R. L. Thompson, Charles C. Belden and Mrs. Pearl J. Mobley.

It is the purpose of the new corporation to take over the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN, which Messrs. Allen B. Lemmon and J. Elmer Mobley have conducted since the big fire of 1906 as a co-partnership. The formal transfer of the property will take place in a few days.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 27, 1912


Stock Company Formed to Take Over His Interests in the Santa Rosa Republican–Articles Filed

Allen B. Lemmon, the well known editor of the Evening Republican, has announced his intended retirement from the newspaper field. On Wednesday articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company were filed with County Clerk. The object of the company is to take over Mr. Lemmon’s interest in the paper above named. The company is incorporated, for $24,000, and the directors named are Rolfe L. Thompson, J. E. Mobley, James W. Oates, C. C. Belden and Pearl Mobley. Each of the directors named has subscribed for two shares of stock. It is understood that formal transfer of the property will be made within a few days.

For more than twenty years-with the exception of a year or so previous to the fire, when the paper was leased to other parties–Mr. Lemmon has presided over the destinies of the Santa Rosa Republican. For some time he has been anxious to dispose of his interests and retire from active newspaper work. He retires with the best wishes of a large circle of friends and acquaintances, and the new owners are wished every success in their venture.

– Press Democrat, November 28, 1912



The formal transfer of the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN newspaper and job printing business to the Santa Rosa Republican Company. a corporation, occurred Monday afternoon. With that date my connection with this paper and business terminated. My entire interest in the plant has been purchased and taken over by the corporation, which is composed of well known residents of Santa Rosa.

Since the big fire of April 18, 1906, the paper has been conducted as a partnership between  J. Elmer Mobley and myself. My retirement is due to a desire to be released from the constant strain of newspaper work.

For almost a quarter of a century I have published the REPUBLICAN as a daily and semi-weekly newspaper. The readers of the paper know whether or not the work has been done well.

In quitting the newspaper field, my thanks are extended to the many friends who have given the paper hearty support during the time it has been under my control. The mangement has my hearty good will, friendship and desire for the success that is sure to follow well directed efforts.


– Santa Rosa Republican, December 10, 1912


Society Gossip by Dorothy Ann

IN THE soft light of many candles that flared and flickered and cast their shadows over the assemblage of immediate relatives, Miss Ruth Woolsey and Ernest L. Finley plighted their troth for better or for worse on Saturday at high noon at the home of the bride’s father, Mr. Frank Woolsey of Woolsey…

…Miss Woolsey was given into the keeping of her husband by her father, Mr. Woolsey. There were no attendants. Although simplicity marked every feature of the wedding, the bride wore the regulation white satin gown, made en train and draped with beaded chiffon…

…After congratulation had been extended the wedding party were served with an elaborate wedding breakfast in the dining room, where an artistic decoration of mistletoe and white satin streamers had been arranged. The center of the bridal table was a mass of pink carnations and ferns. A tempting menu was served.

Mr. and Mrs. Finley motored to one of the nearby stations, and there took the train for San Francisco. It is understood that Los Angeles and other Southern cities will be the objective point where the honeymoon will be spent.


– Press Democrat, December 15, 1912


Read More



The worst case scenario for Santa Rosa after the 1906 earthquake was everything burning down, and that might have happened if the relief train from Petaluma – racing toward the endangered city  at a ridiculously unsafe speed with firemen and hundreds of volunteers aboard – had flown off the tracks.

That’s just one of the many “lost” tales of the earthquake that are found in the Petaluma Argus newspaper in the month after the disaster. As introduced in the previous article, that daily paper is a goldmine of historical information about what was really happening in the North Bay, and it easily doubles the amount of primary source material about the aftermath of Santa Rosa’s 1906 earthquake.

What we knew about events in Santa Rosa was limited for several reasons (see: “WHAT WE KNOW WE DON’T KNOW“), but it was mainly because Santa Rosa only had an interim newspaper called the “Democrat-Republican.” It was only the size of a school newsletter and came out irregularly in the first two weeks after the disaster, and when the local papers resumed after that, the next two weeks are missing. In fact, one of the important things we learn from the Argus is proof that both the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican actually were publishing during the May 3-18 blackout dates, as quotes from both papers appeared in the Petaluma daily.

Besides its own reporting, the Argus also reprinted bits about the Santa Rosa disaster from other papers, some of which are also now missing. We find overlooked first-hand descriptions of the earthquake such as the particularly moving account of the death of Chester Trugden (reprinted from the Sonoma newspaper) and the heroics of fireman Ed Faught (this one reprinted from a San Francisco paper).

Most importantly, the Argus supplied important baseline facts that have been otherwise forgotten. For example, we discover for the first time what happened to most of the debris from downtown – it was “used to fill in a big hollow on the Guerneville [railroad] branch near Mirabel Park.” The Democrat-Republican hadn’t even mentioned when most of the victims were buried; from a letter published in an Iowa paper we were told it happened on Sunday, April 22, but the Argus revealed it happened two days earlier, and even included cemetery details: “On Friday the funerals of 34 victims took place at Santa Rosa, Coroner Blackburn conducting the arrangements with several assistants. Express wagons, trucks and all kinds of vehicles were used to convey the bodies to their last resting places.”

"Waiting for bodies - Occidental Hotel" Image courtesy Sonoma County Library
“Waiting for bodies – Occidental Hotel” Image courtesy Sonoma County Library


In another reprint from the missing issues of the Santa Rosa Republican, it was told for the first time how the word got out about Santa Rosa’s great destruction. A supervisor for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in Santa Rosa sent a foreman south on a handcar, with orders to keep going until he could contact authorities in Tiburon or San Francisco. The message: “Earthquake. Santa Rosa in ruins and burning. Many injured and probably many killed.” He was also instructed to stop in Petaluma and ask for help.

A short train was quickly assembled to send doctors to Santa Rosa, followed by another train with members of the fire department, the town’s two fire hose carts, Petaluma’s National Guard Company C and “hundreds of willing workers and anxious ones seeking local relatives.” What happened next may be the most astonishing event anywhere that day: “The relief train with the Petaluma fire department on board made the trip to Santa Rosa in fourteen minutes on Wednesday morning. The firemen on the flat cars and in the box cars clung to each other for safety. The run is the record time for the distance on this road.” The distance between Petaluma and Santa Rosa train stations is a little over fifteen miles. According to a 1905 article in Railroad Gazette, it took a “Pacific type” steam locomotive with just a tender car over three minutes to reach 50 MPH – thus the train was briefly highballing towards Santa Rosa at over 70 MPH (by my calculations). Steam locomotives rarely went that fast, and then only on custom-built test tracks. Had the thing derailed the loss of life would have been catastrophic. The experience must have been terrifying, and no wonder they “clung to each other for safety.” It is doubtful any of these men would ever again travel so fast the rest their lives.

Here are the top revelations about the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake from the Argus:

A HIGHER DEATH COUNT   On April 25 – a week after the earthquake – the Argus published an item stating Santa Rosa’s mayor put the body count at 70, and it was assumed to be 100 or more: “Mayor Overton has telegraphed W. R. Hearst stating…seventy bodies have been recovered and that thirty additional bodies are believed to be in the ruins or entirely incinerated…” But according to the previous day’s edition of Santa Rosa’s Democrat-Republican, there were exactly 64 “total known deaths” at that time and there had been no published guesstimates as to how many bodies were still to be found (although more people died, only two more remains were discovered after that date).

Were the mayor’s numbers correct? First let’s ask whether he was quoted accurately; the Argus stated only Overton had “telegraphed W. R. Hearst,” publisher of the San Francisco Examiner. If the Argus was only reprinting what appeared in that notoriously yellow newspaper, then it’s possible the Examiner editor exaggerated what Overton wrote or even made up the whole thing. But if it can be confirmed that Mayor Overton actually believed the official mortality was undercounted and they had reason to expect to find 30 additional fatalities, then serious doubt is cast on the entire official narrative.

For the record: There are at least 82 deaths caused by the earthquake and it can be said with high confidence that a minimum count should be 85 (see earthquake FAQ).


THE MYSTERIOUS EXPLODING HARDWARE STORE   One of the enduring puzzles of the earthquake is the postcard seen below. The caption states eight people were killed when “powder” (black powder, presumably) exploded at a downtown Santa Rosa hardware store. Newspaper ads reveal the store also sold gasoline. But nothing at all about this incident was mentioned in the Democrat-Republican.

Postcard with caption, "Wreck of Haven Hardware Co., Santa Rosa, Cal. Where powder exploded killing eight rescurers [sic]." The photo was taken from almost exactly the same location as the wagon seen above, looking southwest towards A street. Image courtesy California Historical Society
Postcard with caption, “Wreck of Haven Hardware Co., Santa Rosa, Cal. Where powder exploded killing eight rescurers [sic].” The photo was taken from almost exactly the same location as the wagon seen above, looking southwest towards A street. Image courtesy California Historical Society
Thanks to the first post-quake edition of the Argus, there is confirmation about the explosion: “In Santa Rosa in Havens’ hardware store powder exploded and lit on the other side of the street, starting a fire which was soon under control” [sic]. No mention of anyone killed, though – at least in that item. This time the Argus gave us a three-fer, but it takes a little sherlocking to dig it out.

The Haven Hardware store was at 420 Fourth Street (halfway between B and A streets, roughly at the location of the Plaza escalators). No one died at that location, according to the death certificates. But three people among the first known fatalities were listed as being killed next door, at 418 Fourth Street: Mrs. Herbert Moke – the wife of Santa Rosa’s undertaker – her daughter Louise Moke and her sister, Mrs. Willie Reid. That was the address of the funeral parlor; why were two women and a little girl sleeping there? The obvious answer is that they were upstairs; the fire insurance maps show there was walk-up rooming above all businesses on that block.

The Argus does us another favor by identifying the name of that place as the Eureka lodging house, which was also the ID on a death certificate of incinerated remains found a full week after the quake. Thus the death count at this location is now up to four.

But that’s not all; a correspondent to the Argus wrote, “Mrs. Moke and daughter were killed and taken from the ruins in the adjoining building and one family taken from the Eureka lodging-house over the Republican newspaper office, the building having been completely demolished.” The Santa Rosa Republican offices were at 416 Fourth Street, on the other side of the undertaking parlor. If the explosion was powerful enough to destroy its own building and (at least) two buildings to the west, then it likely destroyed a matching couple of buildings to the east as well. In short, the Haven Hardware blast may have been powerful enough to blow away half of that side of the block. Note in the postcard it appears the front section of several buildings simply disintegrated.

Note also that the correspondent mentioned the Mokes were killed along with one family. The coroner accounted for almost everyone’s place of death – except the entire De Young family, mother Jessie and her small children, Charles and Violet, who were also among the very first list of victims, along with the Moke/Reid family. Were they also blown up at the Eureka lodging-house? All together, it is likely seven people were directly killed as a result of the blast, close to the eight counted on the postcard.

We now have to conclude the Haven Hardware store explosion not only happened, but might be among the top causes of death during the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, behind only the collapse of the Saint Rose hotel.


GRIM NEWS AS WELL AS THE GOOD   There’s no disputing that Ernest L. Finley, editor of the Press Democrat and the short-run Democrat-Republican, tried to downplay bad news about the disaster – a sharp contrast to his usual style of relishing every gruesome detail about some poor wretch’s suicide by poison or bullet. But Finley was also the town’s indefatigable booster (and soon to be president of the Chamber of Commerce) and precious space in those early, tiny papers was wasted in describing how much worse things were in San Francisco and how really great times were in store for Santa Rosa.

The editor of the Petaluma Argus had no such qualms. In that paper were detailed, eyewitness accounts of people being burned alive along with other unpleasant details.

Two days after the disaster, the Democrat-Republican portrayed an orderly town, where the few remains that were still being recovered were being efficiently handled and most of the injured were “improving nicely.” The same day the Argus reported “Coroner Blackburn on Friday told an Argus reporter that the odor of burned flesh can be detected at half a dozen places in the Santa Rosa ruins. He believes that many bodies are yet entombed.” Then a few days later, “Some of the ruins emit strong odors of decaying flesh but this is supposed to be due to dead animals.”

According to the Democrat-Republican, there was no petty crime in Santa Rosa following the earthquake (although the want ads do suggest some bad guys walked off with other people’s stuff). The Argus told a different story: “Looting has been attempted in many places, especially in the residence district. To prevent this a large number of special policemen and deputy sheriffs have been sworn in to guard the residence district, and this has, in great measure, quieted the fears of the people.” The Argus told us a man was arrested after being caught in the act of stealing from rooms in the fallen St. Rose Hotel, and another guy was found to have stolen half a sack of second-class mail from the ruins of the old postoffice.

The most despicable crime was probably committed by a man named Ed Lahue, who saw a woman removing diamond earrings, rings and other jewelry from the body of Josephine Ely, who died with her son in the collapse of the Grand Hotel. Lahue told the woman he knew the Ely family, and would see that they received the items. It was a lie and he was arrested a few weeks later in San Francisco, but none of the jewelry was found on him and he denied having received it. In an odd little postscript, the Santa Rosa Republican – which was always less inclined to local censorship – produced an item five weeks after the quake revealing Sheriff Grace had received a package with the jewelry, along with a note that the valuable stuff had been “picked up” on a street in Oakland, with no further explanation.

Many other noteworthy details appeared in the Argus; we learn the name of another possible earthquake victim – a man who was injured doing rescue work the morning of the quake that “undoubtedly hastened his end.” We learn that Santa Rosa begged Petaluma to send up all of the crowbars they could find. And while we knew from the Democrat-Republican that “Coroner Frank L. Blackburn brought up a number of coffins from Petaluma,” we learn now that many of those coffins were shipped back with bodies inside to Blackburn’s funeral parlor in Petaluma for embalming.

From the Argus we also have an odd little Believe-it-or-Not! item: Nearly three weeks after the quake, the Board of Supervisors held a quixotic meeting in their old chambers on the second floor of the court house, despite most of the building having been famously destroyed. “There is no roof over the room and the ceiling is partly gone where the part of the building above went through it, but the rubbish has been cleared out and the courageous county fathers will occupy their accustomed places.” As it was still a legal holiday in the state they could do little but “debate questions of importance” and presumably collect their meeting stipend.

It’s also interesting what the Argus didn’t report. Nothing was mentioned about Captain Bertrand Rockwell, who donated $800 to pay for rescue crews during the crucial first two days after the quake (see ” THE LEGENDS OF CAPTAIN ROCKWELL“). As explained in that earlier item, the money came from a Petaluma bank the day of the quake or the morning after. The Democrat-Republican didn’t describe Rockwell’s dash-for-cash either, but given the circumstances, the unusual event must have generated quite a buzz around Petaluma. Perhaps the Argus editor chose to discreetly ignore the story because the governor had ordered all banks in the state closed, so the transaction was technically illegal. But how did Rockwell – a man from Kansas City who was visiting relatives in Santa Rosa – manage to get a Petaluma bank to cash a whopping personal check? It had to be because Frank Denman, the cashier of the Sonoma County Bank of Petaluma was kind of an in-law (Denman’s wife was the sister of James Edwards, who was treasurer of Santa Rosa’s Relief Committee and married to Rockwell’s daughter). And it’s probably not incidental that another tie between Petaluma and the Rockwell-Edwards-Denman clan was demonstrated when Company C pitched its tents on Denman’s mother-in-law’s huge lawn at 409 Fifth street (corner of A street, now underneath the Santa Rosa plaza).

The Argus did make a mistake, however, in repeatedly stating Santa Rosa was under martial law. Although local National Guard Company E and Petaluma’s Company C joined forces to patrol the downtown and set up checkpoints to keep out anyone without a pass, martial law was not declared. This was a mistaken assumption that appeared in all papers describing the situation in Santa Rosa. The Argus further claimed on the first day after the catastrophe “soldiers have been stationed in each store to see that only certain rates are charged.” Was there really some price-gouging? Possibly, but it’s more likely the citizen soldiers were charged with keeping order as panicked townspeople tried to buy up goods for hoarding.

Selections from the Argus regarding Santa Rosa between April 19 and May 23 are transcribed below. Argus reporting about the earthquake in Petaluma and elsewhere is covered in the previous article.

1906 earthquake panorama, looking east from the 4th and A street intersection. The courthouse and its fallen cupola is seen upper right. The south side of 4th between A and B streets is entirely demolished due to the massive explosion of the Haven Hardware store. Photographed from the roof of the carriage shop at 324-326 Fourth st. Image source: "Views of Santa Rosa and Vicinity Before and After the Disaster, April 18, 1906" published for Temple Smith by Rieder, Cardinell & Co., date unknown
1906 earthquake panorama, looking east from the 4th and A street intersection. The courthouse and its fallen cupola is seen upper right. The south side of 4th between A and B streets is entirely demolished due to the massive explosion of the Haven Hardware store. Photographed from the roof of the carriage shop at 324-326 Fourth st. Image source: “Views of Santa Rosa and Vicinity Before and After the Disaster, April 18, 1906” published for Temple Smith by Rieder, Cardinell & Co., date unknown

April 19:


Deputy County Clerk Jack Ford was caught in the ruins of the Occidental Hotel, and was helpless while the fire gradually approached him. He could not help himself. He was released just in time, about three hours after the hotel fell. The heat was becoming unbearable when he was freed, and he says he would have been dead in about three minutes. He came to this city in the afternoon and was surrounded by congratulating friends.

Santa Rosa is now under martial law.

The Dead at Morgue

At the Blackburn funeral parlors many of the dead, killed by the Santa Rosa earthquake, have been taken from Santa Rosa and being prepared for burial.

Among these are Miss Phoebe Green and Mrs. C. E. Manning and child. Their remains will be shipped East.

The two children killed at Tomales will be buried by Mr. Blackburn.

In Santa Rosa in Havens’ hardware store powder exploded and lit on the other side of the street, starting a fire which was soon under control.

Dead are being taken out many have not been identified. Relief is being sent from adjacent cities.

The hardware man, George Thomas and wife were stopping at the St. Rose hotel Santa Rosa. There were in the third story and woke up just in time to walk off to the ground and the roof went with them.

At Santa Rosa late on Wednesday night, one man was taken out of the ruins of a hotel alive. Several dead bodies were recovered.

Petaluma sent two trains to the scene of disaster, the first bringing medical assistance. Among the medicos were Drs. Gossage, Urban, Bennett, Peoples, McMullen and Anderson. The second train brought the Petaluma fire department and hundreds of willing workers and anxious ones seeking local relatives. Many former Santa Rosans came up to lend assistance.

April 20:


Several bodies were recovered from the Santa Rosa ruins on Friday. The remains of Miles Peerman were completely incinerated with the exception of his fingers. The body of Mr. Loeb was found by Chief Flohr of Petaluma.


A few stores were left standing in Santa Rosa and the proprietors charged such excessive prices, that soldiers have been stationed in each store to see that only certain rates are charged.


The ovens and cooking outfit of Co. C were sent to Santa Rosa on Thursday morning. There is no telling how long the company will remain at the county seat.


The remains of the late Mr. and Mrs. Peacock, who were killed in the St. Rose Hotel, were brought down on the afternoon train Thursday and taken to the Blackburn parlors, where they will be embalmed and kept pending orders from relatives. Mr. Peacock built the Santa Rosa depot and the Carnegie library. He is a thirty-second degree Mason.


The relief train with the Petaluma fire department on board made the trip to Santa Rosa in fourteen minutes on Wednesday morning. The firemen on the flat cars and in the box cars clung to each other for safety. The run is the record time for the distance on this road.


Seven bodies were recovered from the ruins at Santa Rosa on Friday making 47 bodies found thus far. Wayne Day’s body was completely incinerated. Two people were taken out of the ruins of the post office alive on Thursday night having been two days in the ruins. Coroner Blackburn says the deaths in Santa Rosa will reach 65.

After all of the several shocks the streets were full of frightened people.


Coroner Blackburn on Friday told an Argus reporter that the odor of burned flesh can be detected at half a dozen places in the Santa Rosa ruins. He believes that many bodies are yet entombed.


By direction of the president through McCalla 40 blue jackets arrived at Santa Rosa on Thursday night from Mare Island and Friday morning went to work on the wreck of the St. Rose hotel. They are under command of commander Higgins of the Independence. They are doing more work and more effective work in an hour than the untrained and undisciplined workers could do in a day.


C. L. Hoffman, who was at Santa Rosa on Thursday, says the work of clearing away the debris is proceeding with no system and with great lethargy. He went up with other volunteers, ready to work, and there was so much red tape in the way that the day passed without his doing anything.

April 21:

M. Tobias who with his wife and daughter were rescued from the St. Rose at Sa. Rosa came down Friday. An injured leg was treated here and Mr. Tobias secured funds and food from relatives for himself and for other relatives who are camping in Jefferson square San Francisco.


At Santa Rosa on Thursday Coroner Frank L. Blackburn, held an inquest on the victims of the awful horror of Tuesday morning. The verdicts in all were death by accident.

Services were held at the Christian Church on Thursday by all of the pastors of the city.

On Friday the funerals of 34 victims took place at Santa Rosa, Coroner Blackburn conducting the arrangements with several assistants. Express wagons, trucks and all kinds of vehicles were used to convey the bodies to their last resting places. Nearly all of the coffins were sent up from this city.


At noon 35 dead had been taken from the ruins at Santa Rosa. Miles Peerman the well known ex-constable was among them. He was caught in a building and was conscious to the last. He talked to those who tried to rescue him but was burned to death before the eyes of his rescuers.

April 23:


One more body was recovered from the ruins at Santa Rosa on Sunday, making over fifty already recovered. It was so badly burned that identification was impossible.

Santa Rosa has sufficient food now for a few days. Two bakeries are turning out bread and several meat markets are open.


Six bodies from Santa Rosa were brought to the Blackburn funeral parlors, where they were prepared for shipment. Nobody was permitted to view the remains.


A big crowd of Petaluma people went to Santa Rosa on Sunday to view the wreck. All came back with the same story to the effect that words can not describe the situation. Nobody was allowed inside the lines except those with passes.

April 24:


Three bodies were recovered from the ruins of the Moody building at Santa Rosa on Monday–two adults and a child. They were completely incinerated, only the charred bones remaining. The bodies can not be identified.

Fifteen cars hauled by an electric motor, were in use on Tuesday, removing debris from Santa Rosa.

In the window of the Racket store there is on exhibition some views of the ruins at Santa Rosa and Tomales. The view attract much attention.

Those desiring photographs of the havoc made by the earthquake in Petaluma and Santa Rosa may procure them for ten cents each at Towne’s drug store.

Hon. T. J. Geary came down from Santa Rosa on Monday and borrowed a typewriter and a few law books. Mr. Geary states that even his house at Inverness was destroyed.


On Monday a work train of the electric road was running up Fourth street in Santa Rosa and did good work in hauling away the debris from the ruined buildings. On Tuesday the trains were again at work and much headway is now being made by the workers. Some of the ruins emit strong odors of decaying flesh but this is supposed to be due to dead animals.

April 25:


At noon on Wednesday twelve carloads of debris left Santa Rosa on the California Northwestern. The debris was hauled out free by the railroad company and will be used to fill in a big hollow on the Guerneville branch near Mirabel Park. Coroner F. L. Blackburn, who returned on Wednesday from Santa Rosa, states no bodies were recovered from the ruins on Wednesday.


Conditions at Santa Rosa were much improved on Wednesday. Good headway is being made clearing away the wrecked buildings and many merchants are preparing to resume business in temporary buildings now being erected.

Mayor Overton has telegraphed W. R. Hearst stating that twelve blocks of the business section were destroyed by the earthquake and eight of the blocks burned over after the buildings fell; that seventy bodies have been recovered and that thirty additional bodies are believed to be in the ruins or entirely incinerated. Mayor Overton also stated that several of the injured will probably die.

A prominent county official estimated the number of residences so badly damaged as to make rebuilding necessary at fifteen to twenty per cent.

Sentator Perkins telegraphed Mayor Overton stating that the Secretary of War would see that Santa Rosa receives its share of the government relief fund.

Congressman McKinlay and family are homeward bound. They will arrive in a few days.

An Argus representative dined with Company C Wednesday. The boys are well supplied with food and it is clean and well cooked.

Mr. and Mrs. Leete returned to Santa Rosa Tuesday last night [sic] with the remains of their daughter who was one of the attendants killed at the Agnews asylum by the earthquake.

Three victims of the earthquake have already been laid to rest in Petaluma.

April 26:


The people of this city have every cause to congratulate themselves upon their escape from a fate similar to that of Santa Rosa.

Our loss from the earthquake is small and we suffered not at all from loss by fire.

Having escaped these evils let us not cause a financial flurry when the local banks open by withdrawing deposits or making unjust demands upon Petaluma’s financial institutions.

To do so would be to invite trouble for ourselves and our banks that would give Petaluma a set-back from which she would be years in recovering…


Chester Trugden, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Trugden of Sonoma, was one of the many victims of the Santa Rosa fire horror. Young Trugden was a drug clerk and the building where he slept collapsed pinioning him beneath the debris. He was in bed when the crash came and before help could reach him the debris took fire and he was burned to death. Campbell MacQuiddy tried in vain to rescue him and stayed with the unfortunate boy until forced to take flight from the flames himself.

After his fate was learned searching parties sought for his body but all that remained was a heap of ashes and the springs of the bed on which he had slept.

MacQuiddy tells a heart rending story of his attempt to help his young chum and says his last words were, “For God’s sake don’t leave me.” MacQuiddy’s coat was scorched and smoking when he came out of the doomed building where Trugden lay dead.

Chester Trugden was a handsome young man just twenty-one years of age and his parents have the sympathy of the entire community in the loss of their eldest boy.–Index Tribune

A man was ducked at Santa Rosa the other day for making remarks about the militia.

April 27:


Santa Rosa, April 26–Martial law still prevails in this city, and the devastated district is being guarded by the militiamen. Looting has been attempted in many places, especially in the residence district. To prevent this a large number of special policemen and deputy sheriffs have been sworn in to guard the residence district, and this has, in great measure, quieted the fears of the people. The search for bodies still continues, but not has been found for a couple of days.

The work of removing the debris is being carried on expeditiously, with the assistance of the California Northwestern and Petaluma & Santa Rosa railways. The steam railroad constructed a spur track to connect with the electric railroad, and locomotives switch thirty-six foot flat cars to the electric line. One of the motor cars propels these cars and those of the electric road down Fourth street, on either side of which the thoroughfare is strewn with wrecked and fallen buildings for blocks. A small army of men is busily employed getting the debris to the street and loading it on the flat cars, after which they are transferred to the steam road and hauled up to the Guerneville branch of Mirabel Park, where it is thrown over the trestle.

The grand exalted ruler of the Elks arrived here today and placed $500 in gold in the hands of Hiram L. Tripp, one of the trustees of the local lodge, for the benefit of the Elks that have suffered, and more forthcoming at once.

Allen B. Lemmon has taken over his old paper, the Santa Rosa Republican, and when the paper re-appears, his name will be “nailed to the masthead.” We congratulate Mr. Lemmon upon his return to journalistic labors. It will seem like old times to have the “old wheel horse” in the fold again.

April 28:


Santa Rosa, April 27–Two more bodies have been taken from the ruins [Ward and Davidson -ed.]…The attorneys of Santa Rosa, realizing the consequences that would ensue if a number of lawsuits involving mortgages and promissory notes and questions of land titles should be brought now, met in convention as the Sonoma County Bar Association and agreed not to file any such suits for the coming six months. By that time it is believed that confidence will have been fully restored and that every one will have had time in which to make arrangements for carrying out the policy that seems best suited to the conditions.

The work of clearing away the debris continues unabated, and the buildings will be soon started all over the city. Arrangements are being made for opening the banks, temporary quarters being prepared fro them. All that is left of them are five large vaults standing like specters in the debris, each of which contains considerable coin.

April 30:


Santa Rosa, April 29–Mrs. A. Crose, who was seriously injured as a result of the Piedmont lodging-house during the earthquake of April 18th, died of blood poisoning this morning. This brings the total of dead and missing up to seventy-seven. All of the other injured victims of the disaster are reported to be doing well, and no more deaths are expected.

May 1:


The ruins of Santa Rosa’s business section was visited on Sunday by several thousand people…The banks will open as soon as buildings are erected. Other banks in the county expect to open on Wednesday.

May 2:

[On this day the Petaluma banks reopened, and five immediately send $100 each to Santa Rosa. -ed.]

Company C is camping on the splendid lawn at the Edwards home on Fifth street, Santa Rosa. Mrs. Edwards is mother of Mrs. Frank H. Denman of Petaluma.


That Santa Rosa did not meet the fate of San Francisco in destruction by fire is due to the extraordinary efforts of the fire department. The first shock of the quake drove out the front wall of fire engine house No. 1. The firemen were hurled many feet from the sliding pole and horse, harness and apparatus were one sad mess. Driver Ed Faught, one of Sonoma’s staunchest sons was first to reach the street. His absorbing thought was of his wife, who occupied apartments in another building. Unconscious, bruised and bleeding he carried her to the open air, where willing hands took the lady in charge. Duty to the city was his next thought, and hastening back to the engine house he managed to get the teams lined up and lead the way over a pile of brick and debris two feet high into the street. There were no fire alarms turned in, the wires were down; but above the shriek of engine whistles and cries of the wounded flames could be seen darting out of the ruins of a half dozens buildings. Water there was a plenty, and little Sebastopol, although damaged severely, and aided time and again in the hour of distress by her sister city, came to the rescue on a hurry call with a new-fangled gasoline fire engine, and paid her debt of gratitude in full by extinguishing several fires.

Citizens who have looked over the brick-pile scaled by Driver Faught and his team mates declare the feat impossible, but it was accomplished, the balance of the ruined city saved from destruction, and it is safe to say that the horses, although willing enough, did not attempt to return the way the came out. The apparatus is comfortable housed in a temporary wooden building on Fifth street. –Bulletin.

Brainerd Jones and wife were at Santa Rosa on Tuesday. [Brainerd Jones and diverse contractors were also inspecting buildings in Petaluma -ed.]

A. S. Newburgh shipped up to Santa Rosa on Tuesday evening at the order of County Clerk Fred L. Wright, all of the crowbars he could secure here. They are for use on the wrecked buildings.

May 4:


When the Board of Supervisors meet on Monday next it will be in their regular rooms on the second floor of the partly demolished court house at Santa Rosa. There is no roof over the room and the ceiling is partly gone where the part of the building above went through it, but the rubbish has been cleared out and the courageous county fathers will occupy their accustomed places. Owing to the fact that the legal holidays are still in force, the Supervisors will transact only routine business, but they will decide upon their plans for the future and debate questions of importance.


Santa Rosa–The people here are greatly chagrined at the estimate placed by Governor George Pardee on their losses. The Governor is quoted as saying that the local damage will approximate $147,000 only, when, as a matter of fact, it will reach over $3,500,000…

May 5:


Many have doubtless wondered how the news of Santa Rosa’s calamity because known to the outside world so eagerly sought on the morning of the recent earthquake. The wires of the telegraph and telephone companies were down, and no means of communication was available. Special trains began to arrive in short order bringing men to fight the flames, the fire department of Petaluma came and doctors also came from Petaluma to aid the injured. Relief began to come from all sources.

The news was sent out by Roadmaster J. W. Barrows of the California Northwestern, formerly of Petaluma. In a message to W. J. Hunter and F. K. Zook, in these words, “Earthquake. Santa Rosa in ruins and burning. Many injured and probably many killed.”

The message was sent out in care of Foreman B. E. Walton, traveling on a handcar, and he was under instructions to keep traveling south until he succeeded in getting into communication with Tiburon or San Francisco. Walton also bore an appeal to Petaluma for doctors and a special train arrived shortly for that [illegible microfilm, but appears to be only the names of the physicians].

Had it not been for the forethought of Mr. Barrows Santa Rosa’s wail would not have been quickly heard and the arrival of relief would have been long deferred.-Republican.

In his full report to his superiors Mr. Barrow compliments the people of Petaluma, her physicians, firemen and militamen for the speedy and splendid response. He also complimented in the highest terms Agent W. J. Cummings, who organized the relief work here and arranged for trains and Conductor Walter Story and Engineer Edwin Reynolds for their splendid work in getting the relief trains to Santa Rosa. Mr. Barrows is very enthusiastic over the work of all.

The Santa Rosa Republican has resumed publishing on its own account.

May 7:


The men in Santa Rosa who had insurance policies had better step lively. The insurance companies are preparing to try to prove that practically all the damages in that town was caused by the earthquake while the flames rubbed their hands as a harmless benediction over the ruins. The best statement the companies have secured is the following from W. O. Knolls, a butcher, who has told them his experience as an eyewitness as follows and the companies will make the most of it:

“I was rooming at the Palm rooming house 404 Fourth street (about the center of the ruined district) and arose at 4:45, dressed and passed down the stairs, stepping to the edge of the sidewalk. The morning was calm and beautiful. Suddenly the building that I had just left began to crackle. I rushed across the street and clung to corner of the St. Rose drug store and there witnessed the falling of the St. Rose Hotel and the surrounding buildings. The one to which I clung remained standing. The noise of the fallen buildings was deafening and the dust from the street and fallen buildings was so dense on could scarcely see four feet ahead. I stared to recross the street but found a network of live wire down. I waited a few moments until the dust cleared away then made my way back to my room, which had fallen within four or five feet of the sidewalk and found my wife unharmed. Fires had started in several places and soon consumed most of the wreckage. All of the business portion of the city was a complete wreck.
“An eyewitness.”

Mrs. Moke and daughter were killed and taken from the ruins in the adjoining building and one family taken from the Eureka lodging-house over the Republican newspaper office, the building having been completely demolished.

The insurance men have figured the entire death list at Santa Rosa at sixty-five. In the matter of proving that loss was caused by earthquake and not by fire, the burden of proof is on the insurance companies and not on the insured. This is why the companies are at work getting up statements and [illegible microfilm] to prove their side of the case. The holders of policies had better be prepared to offer their proof in the other direction. -Examiner.

May 8:

The remains of little Louise Moke were removed from the ruins of a building on Fourth street, Santa Rosa, Saturday. Her mother, Mrs. Herbert Moke, and her aunt, Mrs. Willie Reid, were killed in the same building. Her father is the well known undertaker of Santa Rosa.

The remains of Mr. and Mrs. F. W. Carter, who met death at Santa Rosa, were interred Saturday in the lot of Mrs. Samuel Roberts, in the Odd Fellows’ Cemetery at Santa Rosa.

The remains of Walter H. Smith, a traveling man who was killed in the ruins of the St. Rose Hotel, were shipped to the metropolis Monday enroute to his former home at Marshfield, Oregon.

Officers Hankel and Daggett went to the residence of a man in Santa Rosa Thursday night and found half a sack of Second-class mail matter that had been removed from the ruins of the old postoffice. The case will be reported to the federal authorities.

May 9:

The Santa Rosa saloons will be permitted to open on Thursday. The hours will be from 8 a. m. to 6 p. m.

May 10:

Captain O. L. Houts of Company E has 123 men and three officers, and Captain Dickson of Company C has 50 men and three officers on duty in Santa Rosa at the present time, under command of Major C. E. Haven of the Fifth Regiment.

May 11:


Constable James H. Boswell went to the metropolis this morning armed with a warrant for the arrest of a man accused of a heinous crime. He has his man located and expects to bring him back to this city on the evening train. The culprit is accused of stealing a gold watch valued at $125 and a sum of money approximating fifty dollars from the corpse of a woman killed in the wreckage here.

Another man under arrest in the county jail, having been caught in the act of stealing from guests’ rooms in the St. Rose Hotel, will also be made to feel the power of the law. He is a youth well known in Santa Rosa and when taken into custody had a quantity of loot on his person. Both prisoners will be tried when the government has ceased to declare legal holidays. – Republican.

May 12:


Replying to a letter sent him a few days ago by Governor Pardee, Mayor Overton of Santa Rosa writes:

“On behalf of the people of Santa Rosa,  I thank you for your devotion to our interests…Conditions are fairly good here now. Much work has been done since you were here, in the way of cleaning up and hauling off debris. A good deal of money has been paid out by property owners. We are keeping relief funds and relief supplies in good reserve for future needs, which are sure to rise and will see that there is no waste or graft.” – Chronicle.


In the window of McGuire’s drug store there is on exhibition a number of souvenirs of the earthquake and fire at San Francisco and Santa Rosa. Among these were the hand and sword of the stature of Minerva, which formerly adorned the topmost point of the tower of the courthouse at Santa Rosa. It was sent to Coroner F. L. Blackburn by one of the county officials, as a souvenir and by him loaned to the McGuire collection.

May 14:


Ed Lahue, a cook, has been brought back to Santa Rosa from San Francisco, charged with having stolen a quantity of jewelry from the corpse of Mrs. Ben Ely who was killed in the ruins of the Grand Hotel, consisting of diamond rings, a gold watch and chain valued at $150, and diamond earrings. These articles were placed in the hands of Mrs. Henrietta A. Hahmann for safe keeping after being taken from the corpse when Lahue intervened, declaring that he knew the woman and her people and promising to see that the jewelry reached the heirs of the woman. Lahue denies having received the jewelry. The husband of the woman swore to the complaint on which Lahue was arrested.


The schooner Erma arrived here Monday in tow of the towboat with a cargo of brick for the Dougherty building at Santa Rosa. Many schooners loads of brick and sand are expected here for use in the rebuilding of Santa Rosa.


The Santa Rosa Board of Education met last night and conferred with contractor J. O. Kuykendall and Architect Stone regarding the Burbank school building. The work will have to be done over. Some opposition has been heard to rebuilding with stone and brick. Much time has been spent in considering the contract to determine how much of the loss of the building falls upon the contractor and upon the Board. All payments made amounting to $10,600 falls upon the Board in part of the fourth payment as well as the cost of tearing down the structure if it is to be rebuilt of wood. – Republican.

May 15:


The guard at Mendocino and Fifth streets, Santa Rosa fired into the debris of the Jones’ livery stable shortly before 11 o’clock Thursday night. He declares he saw a man disappear after being challenged but a search by the corporal of the guard and other failed to find any trace of a marauder.

May 19:

Thirteen hundred carloads of debris have been hauled from Santa Rosa by the Petaluma & Santa Rosa and California Northwestern railroads. It is believed the work can be completed within a week or ten days at the outside.

Two men were arrested in Santa Rosa on Friday, charged with insanity.

May 23:

The Santa Rosa Board of Education met Monday night and instructed Architect Stone to prepare plans and specifications for a frame structure for the Burbank school house to replace the brick. The interior will remain the same.


A. S. Archer, an expressman of Santa Rosa died Tuesday morning of a complication of diseases. Archer has been a resident there for many years and was well known. On the morning of the earthquake Archer injured himself in assisting in the rescue work, and this undoubtedly hastened his end. He was a member of the Foresters of America.

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You can say this about Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley: He didn’t shy from making enemies and picking fights. At best, he was the tireless champion of anything that might bring prosperity to Sonoma County; at worst he was a relentless bully and yellow journalist who kept Santa Rosa bound to its 19th century ways.

(RIGHT: Ernest L. Finley, 1909)

Today his name is remembered for the generosity of the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation (although that wasn’t founded until decades after his death) and his determination in the 1930s to build the Golden Gate Bridge, despite (supposed) efforts by railroad interests to organize a boycott of his newspaper – “Damn the circulation! The bridge must be built!” remains his most famous (and likely apocryphal) quote.

The usual hagiography paints him as a humble small town newspaper editor who preferred to jaw with farmers over the price of hops and hogs, but he was much more complex than that. In the first four decades of the Twentieth Century, no man or woman cast a longer shadow on Santa Rosa history than Ernest Latimer Finley; favorite son Luther Burbank might have been the town celebrity, but Finley was the kingmaker, the media baron of print (and later, airwaves), the superarbiter of almost everything that happened north of the Golden Gate. Finley blazed a trail that directly continued into the era of Codding before arriving at the place we live today, better or worse.

In the handful of years between 1904 and 1909 Finley would deny he was the most divisive person in town, although he declared all-out war five times, usually resorting to ad hominem attacks against his antagonist as well as the politician or group he opposed. Even in the knockdown world of turn-of-the-century newspapering, this was playing rough.

His longest running feud was with Allen B. Lemmon, editor of the rival Santa Rosa Republican. During the run up to the 1904 elections, Finley and Lemmon were both throwing sharp elbows as they championed their party’s candidate for Congress. Finley, however, played foul by publishing a dialogue between Lemmon and the Republican nominee where the editor supposedly denounced his own candidate as a liar and a coward. The Press Democrat named no source for the quote or gave any indication of how they could have been privy to know about such an argument, much less the exact words said.    

Shortly after that election, Lemmon stepped away from the Republican newspaper for a time and leased it to a pair of experienced newsmen from out of town. Finley (un)welcomed them with a pair of snide parody ads that cast them as snooty city slickers, “having just passed under control of people from the big town, who never saw a pumpkin in their lives, will henceforth be devoted to the pleasant, though arduous task, of teaching metropolitan ways to hayseeds, and introducing city culture to the backwoods” Finley also wrote snarky little editorials when the newcomers dared criticize the City Council. After the Republican’s new editors became muckrakers and broke Santa Rosa’s omertà to reveal that the town thrived upon an underground economy of prostitution and illegal gaming, Finley tossed out a red herring that the “real issue” was the Republican paper printing short market crop prices, thus somehow undermining local hop growers. And when the Republican raised questions about graft and corruption before the 1906 city election, the Press Democrat charged them with playing cheap partisan politics.

If Ernest Finley festered perpetual grudges against his newspaper rivals, he reserved his unbridled contempt for the citizen reformers who wanted to clean up their town. To Finley, reform came with the risk of negative publicity that would damage Santa Rosa’s “good name abroad.” Unmentioned was that should a reform movement gain traction, they could follow contemporary San Francisco in calling for Grand Jury hearings, which in Santa Rosa might risk indictments of the downtown property owners and businessmen who profited from the town being the Sin City of the North Bay.

Finley first took aim at the Good Government League, a short-lived group formed in 1905 to “secure the nomination and election of competent and trustworthy men for office” and encourage “honest and vigorous investigation of civic affairs.” It was hardly Occupy Wall Street activism, but Finley wasted no time in comparing them to vigilantes and violent hate groups. Finley’s wild charges quelled only after it was revealed that the League vice president was none other than Santa Rosa’s lionized Luther Burbank.

Now calling themselves the “Municipal League,” reformers mounted a serious effort at winning city political offices in the 1908 election. The Press Democrat immediately accused them of being a stalking horse of “the church element,” although it was apparent that the new League was an alliance of prohibitionists, anti-corruption progressives, and voters angered over the City Council’s legalization of Nevada-style prostitution. Finley called them liars with a secret agenda to turn Santa Rosa “dry” and who were agitators stirring up “hard feelings” in town using “cowardly and un-American” tactics. (At least this time Finley had the good sense to delay mentioning the reformers had Burbank’s endorsement until the last possible moment.) After weeks of mud-slinging and dissembling and having pissed off a goodly portion of the town, there were grumblings about a boycott of the Press Democrat. In response, Finley had the gall to claim the PD “never intentionally misrepresents things.”

Finley’s keep-the-status-quo ticket won the election, and he was elected president of the Chamber of Commerce, following the man who was now the mayor. Nothing more was heard from the Municipal League, which presumably dissolved after losing at the ballot box. It was time to let tempers cool and animus fade. But that wasn’t how things were done at the Press Democrat; Ernest L. Finley always kept slugging away until no opponent was left standing.

(RIGHT: The April, 1909 edition of The Citizen, one of two copies of the newsletter known to survive. Copy courtesy Sonoma County Public Library)

His main target was now the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union, which was “the church element” that had supported the Municipal League. In a rambling editorial that clocks in at almost 3,000 words, Finley rehashed issues from the election half a year earlier to defend the city leaders he endorsed and continue bashing the Ministerial Union along with their monthly newsletter, “The Citizen” (UPDATE HERE).

The Press Democrat editor told readers that the Ministerial Union represented a “radical element” whose “fanaticism, vicious and uncalled-for attacks” on Santa Rosa administrators was responsible for dividing the town. Finley declared  “more ill-feeling was engendered here during the last city campaign than during any other similar period in all the town’s history. The most bitter and uncalled for personalities were indulged in, and unfounded charges were hurled right and left with no thought of responsibility and apparently without regard to their truth or lack of it.”

So who were these malcontents that Finley portrayed as the enemy of the town? Of the 12 churches in town, eight apparently belonged to the Ministerial Union, according to a directory that appeared in The Citizen. Members included all three flavors of Methodist (Southern, Episcopal, and German), the Baptists, and four kinds of Protestants. The congregations that didn’t belong were the Catholic church, the Unitarian church, and the two Lutheran churches.

Much of Finley’s harangue centered on the issue of prostitution. Both the reformers and the status-quo “fusion” ticket vowed to repeal it in the 1908 election. Finley’s fusion boys won, quickly repealed the prostitution ordinance – and then did nothing to enforce it for more than a year, aside from arresting a few women for illegally selling booze. But what could they do? lamented Finley. “All the history of the world goes to show that when ‘driven out’ this form of vice invariably returns in another and far worse guise, distributing itself through the residence districts, establishing itself in hotels and lodging houses.” What Finley disingenuously neglected to mention was that Santa Rosa was unique in the region for turning prostitution into a major industry, with no fewer than 8 or 9 bordellos operating here at the time – nearly one whorehouse for each church. That’s a statistic that probably didn’t make the Chamber of Commerce tourist handouts.

Finley was also muchly troubled by the churches in the Ministerial Union shining light on Santa Rosa’s underworld. Because of the ministers there was “a general topic of discussion almost everywhere.” And what of our poor children? While patting his own back for avoiding “using language that is either unpleasant or suggestive,” Finley complained The Citizen had shamefully printed “open, bare-faced and disgusting references to this unpleasant topic. As a result, the children have become almost as well posted on such things as their parents…what was once tabooed or mentioned only in undertones is now regarded lightly.” Finley was particularly upset that the Union had “worked irreparable injury” to Santa Rosa’s reputation by “forever trying to make the outside world believe that this is one of the worst cities in the land, governed by some of the country’s most disreputable men.” Take a moment to reflect upon his remarkable positions: The editor and publisher of the Press Democrat – and not incidentally, also president of the Chamber of Commerce – was clearly stating that criticism of public officials should be muted, and the cover-up of some types of criminal activity was a matter of civic duty.

Also on Finley’s enemy list were unnamed “interested parties” who had blocked the mayor’s proposed solution to the prostitution problem. “Unofficially the administration had quietly been given to understand that quarters would be provided for them elsewhere in a less public part of the city,” wrote Finley. Alas, in his view, the plan was killed because “petitions were gotten out and industriously circulated.” What Finley didn’t mention was that the grand scheme was to dump the red light district on the Italian neighborhood. In other words, town officials intended to keep the bordellos around, just not on such valuable real estate.

Since Finley had earlier decried brothels in “the residence districts,” he apparently viewed the Italian community as something lesser. But that didn’t stop the Press Democrat from publishing an overwrought defense of Italian honor when it presented a new opportunity to attack the Ministerial Union.

Judging from the two copies that have survived, The Citizen newsletter used most of its ink reporting on developments in the temperance movement, so it’s no surprise that the August, 1909 edition noted that there had been 18 arrests in Cloverdale for public drunkenness that year. “[T]he number of Whites arrested for drunkenness was 10; Italians, 8,” the item stated. Rev. Cassin of St. Rose fired off a letter to the PD that it was an “undeserved insult to the Italian population by excluding them from the list of white people.” A spokesman for the Union replied that they intended no offense and regretted the “verbal inaccuracy.” Cassin was not placated, and charged the “insult was given with malice aforethought” by the Ministerial Union. The Catholic church, recall, was not part of the Union, and its priest apparently shared Finley’s animosities. Finley did not editorialize this time, but gave the letters prominent coverage with large type headlines.

There were two snarky footnotes to Ernest Finley’s wars of 1909. The Citizen ceased publication a couple of months after the Italian-White hubbub, and was followed by the “Sonoma County Advance and County Home Weekly,” about which nothing is known. Noting that the journal would be published in Sebastopol, Finley sneered, “it will not be the first time outsiders have been good enough to come in to a town just previous to an election for the purpose of telling the people how to vote.”

The Press Democrat also ran a gossip item that Allen Lemmon’s partner was trying to find investors to buy the Santa Rosa Republican from the 61 year-old Lemmon. “Inability to work together harmoniously is given as the cause,” the PD added unnecessarily. Even for Finley, that was a low bit of work.


Another issue of “The Citizen,” published under the auspices of the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union, has made its appearance. And as usual, the little paper devotes most of its attention and space to The Press Democrat.

Under the direction of three or four ministers with whose radical views we have been unable to agree, The Citizen has been hammering The Press Democrat for a long time. It never loses an opportunity of telling its readers what a bad paper this is, and how wicked its proprietors are. According to that authority, The Press Democrat is “the saloon organ,” and “protector of vice,” and it “stands for immorality.” Needless to say, these things are not true, and The Press Democrat stands for nothing of the sort. In their narrowness and mistaken zeal the gentlemen dominating the so-called local Ministerial Union even went so far on one occasion as to attempt to institute a boycott against The Press Democrat upon the grounds that this paper was an enemy to society and a menace to the welfare and progress of the community. No criticism is too harsh for The Citizen to employ in its condemnation of this paper, and such has been its policy from the start.

And in the meantime the people only laugh, because they know for themselves that the things charged against The Press Democrat by The Citizen are not true. The public does not have to be assured through these columns or in any other way that The Press Democrat has only the best interests of this town and community at heart. Its consistent record for more than fifty years as an exponent and advocate of the right is all the answer necessary to the mouthings of the men now working so hard to keep themselves in the limelight and who appear to be so very desirous of gaining control of public affairs here.

During the last municipal campaign, the Ministerial Union was particularly active. Through its little “official organ” it kept things stirred to fever heat. It is no exaggeration to say that more ill-feeling was engendered here during the last city campaign than during any other similar period in all the town’s history. The most bitter and uncalled for personalities were indulged in, and unfounded charges were hurled right and left with no thought of responsibility and apparently without regard to their truth or lack of it.

In an excess of zeal that gave the movement the unmistakable stamp of fanaticism, vicious and uncalled-for attacks were made upon the out-going administration almost daily–although none of the men connected with that administration were candidates for reelection, while they had just successfully carried through a great work that should have and did earn them the grateful thanks of the community, and in spite of the fact that they represented our very highest types of mental and business ability, and our best citizenship.

The effect of the irrational work carried on here during the last municipal campaign is still apparent in many ways. Feelings have been engendered that it will take years to allay, a good portion of the town is solidly arrayed against some of the things it ought to be and otherwise would be for, and valuable co-operation and support has been alienated which might just as well have been retained.

The Citizen is now busy casting stones at Mayor Gray and the present administration with the same bitterness and lack of reason previously displayed toward the old council.

One of its charges is that the officials now in authority have not reduced the number of saloons here.

Mayor Gray and the members of the present city council did not run on the Ministerial Union platform, nor were they elected to carry out its policies. We only know of one new license that has been granted, and when the matter was passed up to Mayor Gray in open council he said he would do whatever the people living in that immediate part of town wished. Upon investigation, he found that only one person living or doing business within two blocks of that point was opposed in the license being granted, and that person was a man engaged in the same line of business. Without exception the others favored the granting of the license. Having given his word on the matter, there was only one thing left for Mayor Gray to do, and he did it.

Attempting to dismiss this matter in its last issue, The Citizen displays its usual disregard for facts, and after gravely assuring its readers that it knows what it is talking about this time, anyhow, says:

On the 26th of January the City Council passed a resolution favoring the reduction of the number of saloons in Santa Rosa and immediately afterwards, at the same meeting, granted an application for a license.

Yet the truth is that the application was granted first, and the resolution passed afterwards, which, of course, gives the situation a somewhat different aspect. And not only does The Citizen mis-state the facts regarding this phase of the matter, but it is also incorrect as to the date of the meeting to which it refers.

Of course it would have been no more trouble for The Citizen to verify these facts than it has been for The Press Democrat to do so, but The Citizen appears to regard facts as of no consequence. “Make your facts agree with your arguments,” is The Citizen’s motto, and always has been.

In many respects conditions have been materially improved here since the present administration went into office, although no one would ever surmise it from reading The Citizen. There is little if any disorder, the poolrooms have been abolished, the town is carefully policed, and one of the first acts of the incoming administration was to rescind the ordinance previously enacted for the legal regulation of the redlight district–a law that appears to have been a little ahead of the times here, but which has the strongest approval of practically every important European community and many of the larger cities in our own county.

 And this brings us to a discussion of another charge being made against the administration of the Ministerial Union, through its “official organ.” We refer to the existence of the district above mentioned, in its present location.

 Before Mayor Gray went into office–before he even thought of becoming a candidate, for that matter–he had a plan under way for moving the denizens of that part of town, and for transforming that valuable section into a public park. This was no particular secret, and after his election he proceeded with renewed vigor to try to carry the plan to a successful conclusion. Matters progressed to a point where considerable of the property was bonded, and notes was finally given certain objectionable tenants living in that part of time that they must leave. Unofficially the administration had quietly been given to understand that quarters would be provided for them elsewhere in a less public part of the city. But this information coming to the ears of interested parties in advance, petitions were gotten out and industriously circulated protesting against any action likely to result in the establishment of any similar quarter in any other part of the city.

 And strange as it may seem, this petition was signed by a number of these [people] who, previous to the election, had stated that they were in favor of doing just what the plan had in contemplation.

 The result of the petition was to leave the administration powerless in the matter, for it did not care to assume the responsibility of taking all restriction off of such traffic, which would have been and always has been, in any town where it has ever been attempted, the result of “driving them out.” All the history of the world goes to show that when “driven out” this form of vice invariably returns in another and far worse guise, distributing itself through the residence districts, establishing itself in hotels and lodging houses, here, there and anywhere it can gain a foothold, and conducting itself in such a way that, except in rare instances only, is it possible to combat it under the law.
 We will have to confess that we much dislike to thus openly discuss a problem of this nature in these columns. The time has come, however, when this study should be understood. The world is not called upon to meet conditions as they might or as they should be, but as they actually are. The plain facts of the matter are that these things have always existed, ever since the days of Mary Magdalene, and before. No community ever organized has yet been able to stamp out the social evil. No community ever will. For this reason men who have really made a study of public questions and understand the world and its ways, are agreed that it is better to recognize the existence of certain omnipresent evils and do what can be done to restrict and regulate them, thus minimizing as far as possible their bad effects, rather than pretend not to see them and force the public later to reap the inevitable results of such mistaken policy.

 Contrasted to this, is the plan now in operation here and with certain modifications practically throughout the entire world–a plan which has for its basic principles the restriction of the area within which such people may reside; strict police surveillance at all times, and (where the plan is carried to its logical development) certain other features of a precautionary nature to which it is perhaps unnecessary here to refer.
In penning these lines we have endeavored, as far as possible, to refrain from using language that is either unpleasant or suggestive. It will have to be admitted, however, that any adequate discussion of such a subject is difficult when one is thus restricted in his use of words.

Unfortunately The Citizen appears to feel no such restriction upon its editorial utterances. For months its columns have been filled with the most open, bare-faced and disgusting references to this unpleasant topic. As a result, the children have become almost as well posted on such things as their parents. This handling and regulation of the evil has become a general topic of discussion almost everywhere, and what was once tabooed or mentioned only in understones [sic] is now regarded lightly. Under the circumstances, it is of course but natural that a certain looseness along social lines should have resulted. No other result was to have been expected.

Yet the Ministerial Union doubtless imagines that it has accomplished a vast amount of good by its open, constant and flagrant discussion of these and kindred topics. Let there be no misunderstanding regarding this matter. We mean exactly what we say when we state that the discussion of these matters carried on by the Ministerial Union has been open and flagrant. Not only has the topic been discussed barefacedly in every issue of its official organ for months, but the policy of the organization as manifested in its mass meetings is open to the same criticism. “Women and young people are particularly invited,” is the way a certain minister once closed his announcement regarding such a gathering, from his pulpit. It has remained for certain of Santa Rosa’s ministers to inaugurate the custom of openly discussing such topics before and in the presence of innocent girls and respectable women.

There an be no question whatever that this policy is all wrong. In our opinion it has worked irreparable injury not only to the rising generation here at home, but also to the reputation of the community abroad.
Nobody will dispute the fact that the section complained of should be removed to another and less public part of town, for Santa Rosa has grown some during the past thirty years, and what was once an area of no particular importance is now surrounded with homes and residences. This is the idea entertained by the administration, and this is exactly what the administration tried to do. The question is, how can such a result be brought about? A public petition blocked it once. What will block it next time? Public sentiment would scarcely stand for the authorities taking the initiative in such a matter, even if they cared to do so. As officials and consequently as the guardians of the interest of all equally, what right have they to say that one part of town is any better than another. These suggestions give only a little idea of the difficulties that beset the administration in its attempt to handle this difficult and trying problem–a problem that has troubled public authorities ever since the world began, and to which the past and present political administrations of Sanata Rosa have probably devoted more study and thought than all the migratory gentlemen of the cloth who ever resided within the corporate limits.
  When the question was once up for discussion, it was seriously proposed that the entire matter be turned over to a commission, and that this commission consist of the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union. Perhaps this suggestion is still good. The gentlemen making up that organization would at least discover that the problem before them was more difficult than it looks and they might even be willing by going through the motions of “driving them out” to take the responsibility of removing all restrictions from the traffic. This is a responsibility that the municipal authorities refuse to take, flatly and absolutely.
  If the Ministerial Union will not consent to act as such a commission, perhaps it will come forward with some suggestion that might be of value. If it could give the name and location of any city or town in Christiandom where the social evil has ever been abolished, except perhaps a few days or a few weeks at a time, while some public agitation has been going on, it would be helping some. Up to the present time they have never done anything more helpful than to stand off and throw stones.
  But whatever course is pursued, let its final disposition be made quietly and as the judgement of the men entrusted with the problem may decide is for the best. The time has come when the open discussion of the subject must be stopped. The public is sick of it, and is beginning to resent it, as it should.
 The Press Democrat has never been the advocate of the saloon, or any of its allied interests. We have fought the so-called Ministerial Union in its attempt to secure control of public affairs here, just as we should fight a similar attempt upon the part of any other radical element, because we believe that to turn government in any form over to impractical men or theorists is unwise–yes, dangerous. As a matter of fact, Santa Rosa would be better off with half the number of saloons she has today, and with each one paying three times the present license. Aside from the fact that this is a great wine and hop producing section, in which to talk of prohibition would be inconsistent as well as unreasonable, there is a narrowness and provincialism about the very idea of a “dry” town that is displeasing to any man with experience and breadth of vision. Careful supervision and close restriction is a good thing, but there is no good reason why prohibition should ever be seriously talked of in a county like this.
 The Citizen reflects little if any of that broad Christianity or kindness of spirit that one would naturally expect to see manifested by a publication issued by ministers of the gospel. Harsh and uncalled-for criticisms, constant fault-findings, never-ending objections, make up the burden of its utterances. If the men responsible for the things appearing in its columns have ever been to any of the present municipal authorities to talk over the betterment of conditions here, or if they have ever proposed any likely solution for the difficulties complained of, we have never heard of it. The lash rather than the helping hand is The Citizen’s way, and apparently the way of the so-called Santa Rosa Ministerial Union. We say so-called, because it is well know that the organization does not represent anything like the unanimous sentiment of the ministers of the city. Several refuse to have anything to do with the organization, and others who belong make no secret of the fact that they do not endorse the policies that have marked its course during the past two or three years.
 If the so-called Santa Rosa Ministerial Union really cared as much for the welfare of this community as it professes to, it would not be forever trying to make the outside world believe that this is one of the worst cities in the land, governed by some of the country’s most disreputable men.

— Press Democrat editorial, May 4, 1909

St. Rose’s Church, August 7, 1909–Editor of the Press Democrat:

My attention has been called to an article in the “Citizen” of August, 1909. In that article, page 7, speaking of the arrests in Cloverdale for drunkenness, it says: “The docket of Cloverdale precinct from January to June 1909, shows that the number of Whites arrested for drunkenness was 10; Italians, 8; Indians,0. When it is borne in mind that the White population in larger than the Italian and that the Indians have prohibition, etc.”

Precluding altogether the question of intemperance, it does seem strange that the write of the above should offer a bitter, intentional and undeserved insult to the Italian population by excluding them from the list of white people. Swarthy their faces may be from the honest and hard toil necessary to make Sonoma county the garden spot of California, while the writer with a face blanched with hatred was in his closet penning this insult to a hard-working people. Better to have referred to them the words of our great American poet:

“His hair is crisp and black and long;
His face is like the tan;
His Brow is wet with honest sweat–
He earns whate’er he can.
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.”

Italy was civilized and was the mistress of the world as it is today, the center of art, when, I venture to say, the country of the writer of the article in the “Citizen” was unknown or its people yet to be civilized. While the writer condemns so vehemently intemperance in drink, he should remember there is a greater intemperance he is guilty of–hatred for those who do not follow his opinion. “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but what cometh out of a man this defileth a man.”–St. Matthew xv:11.

I sympathize with the Italian population for the undeserved insult offered to them in the “Citizen,” and I sympathize with the cause of Temperance that has such intemperate supporters.

J. M. Cassin.

— Press Democrat, August 8, 1909


Editor Press Democrat: In the paragraph on page seven of the Citizen for August in which those arrested for drunkenness at Cloverdale were classified as “Whites,” Italians and Indians, there was no intention of casting any sort of reflection on the Italians or in anywise insinuating that they do not belong to the “White” race. The word  “White”  was used in a very loose sense and was meant to include all  “Whites” other than Italians. It was an inadvertence, a verbal inaccuracy which we regret and we disclaim even the remotest purpose of offering the least insult to our Italian citizens. We are somewhat familiar with the ancient and honorable Roman and the long line of heroes, which “the Eternal City” justly boasts from the mythical Romulus to the patriot Mazzini and we would not, if we could, dim the radiance of one star that shines in the galaxy of Italy’s immortals nor detract one iota from the glory of her race.

Francis A. Downs, Secretary.

Done by order of the Ministerial Union of Santa Rosa, Aug. 9, 1909. Pastor’s Study, Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

— Press Democrat, August 10, 1909

St. Rose’s Church, Santa Rosa. Editor of the Press Democrat:

The paragraph in the August number of the “Citizen” was generally as a bitter insult to the Italians. An apology plain and humble was due to them, and this was looked for. What do the insulted Italians get? Only an explanation which repeats the insult. The Ministerial Union, while denying that they wished to differentiate between Whites and Italians, yet admit they wished to hold up Italian drunkards as apart from what they call “White” drunkards. They pled inadvertence, and verbal inaccuracy. This might be admitted in the case of one minister writing under the influence of hatred for the Italians, but a ministerial union should be able to correct the mistake of an individual minister. The idea of inadvertence and verbal inaccuracy cannot be admitted. The insult was given with malice aforethought … [three lines of illegible microfilm]… They plead looseness of language. This plea cannot be admitted as they are aided by legal skill that should secure them from this pretended looseness of language. Now, as to the figures they give of cases of drunkenness in Cloverdale–“Whites” 10; Italians 8. It is said that figures do not lie, but some times they do not tell the truth. We may rest assured that the 8 cases of Italians represent the whole. There is no consideration for them. But what about the “Whites”? Do the ten cases represent the whole? Are they not sometimes taken home in a hack and their name and their number omitted from the list? I think this may be so in Cloverdale, and I know that it is so in a place much nearer to me than Cloverdale.

In fine, the insult to the Italians by the Ministerial Union still stands. They have not and will not apologize as is duty bound. Their explanation does not explain, but repeats the offense. I again offer my sympathy to the Italians for the insult given to them by the Ministerial Union and for the repetition of it under the guise of an explanation.

J. M. Cassin.

— Press Democrat, August 11, 1909

“The Citizen,” formerly put out by the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union, is now a thing of the past, its publication having been discontinued. In an attempt to fill the void, Marcus L. Waltz, a Sebastopol real estate dealer and printer, has launched the “Sonoma County Advance and County Home Weekly,” the place of publication being Sebastopol. Mr. Waltz says that in a few months he will move his plant to Santa Rosa and issue the paper from here. This is understood to mean that the change will be made election time. If so, it will not be the first time outsiders have been good enough to come in to a town just previous to an election for the purpose of telling the people how to vote.

— Press Democrat editorial, November 16, 1909

Impending Newspaper Change

A report in circulation yesterday was to the effect that there would soon be a change at the Republican office, either A. B. Lemmon or J. E. Mobley being about to retire. Inability to work together harmoniously is given as the cause. Mobley is said to be trying to induce a number of Republican politicians to go in with him and buy Lemmon out.

— Press Democrat, September 15, 1909

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