wellordered

A WELL-ORDERED MILITIA

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

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


THE LIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

maynardyoung(RIGHT: Maynard Young 1923 portrait)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

sources
 

FRED YOUNG AN AVIATOR

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

– Healdsburg Tribune, May 2 1918

 

FRED YOUNG A LIEUTENANT

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

– Healdsburg Tribune, July 11 1918

 

MAYNARD YOUNG HERE

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

– Press Democrat, June 22 1919

 

First Airplane to Visit This City, Piloted by Local Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Healdsburg Tribune, July 10 1919

 

MAYNARD YOUNG HAS THE AGENCY FOR SALIENT SIX

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

– Press Democrat, July 18 1919

 

Patteson and Woods To Have Machine Shop

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

– Press Democrat, July 18 1919

 

STANDARD MACHINE WORKS TO OPEN IN HEALDSBURG

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

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

– Healdsburg Tribune, August 14 1919

 

Sheriff Petray Returns

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

– Press Democrat, June 25 1920

 

CELEBRATOR STOPS AUTO ON HIGHWAY; SHERIFF IS IN IT

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, June 25 1920

 

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

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

– Press Democrat, August 11 1920

 

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

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

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

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

[..]

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

– Press Democrat, December 9 1920

 

HEALDSBURG LAUDS MEN WITH ROPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, December 10 1920

 

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

– Healdsburg Tribune, March 2 1921

 

PATTESON NAMED DEPUTY SHERIFF

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, March 2 1921

 

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, October 26 1921

 

Local Wonder Dog Amazes Crowd

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

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

– Healdsburg Tribune, November 13 1941

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fhiddengraves

HIDDEN GRAVES

It was 1:15 in the morning when Dr. Phillips’ phone rang at his home in Petaluma. As he was Sonoma County Coroner, this was not terribly unusual; people inconveniently die at all hours. It’s the coroner’s job to investigate when there are unusual circumstances and the good doctor was certainly kept busy in late 1920 looking into odd deaths – in the previous few weeks four people were killed when their car or truck was hit by a train and a seven year-old boy was decapitated in an accident at the fairgrounds. But Phillips had never received a call like this one: He was told there were three men hanging from a tree in the old Santa Rosa cemetery and nobody knew who killed them.


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

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

This is a postscript to the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” and covers one of the conspiracies of silence following the murder of the gangsters: The mystery of what happened to their bodies.

As he drove to Santa Rosa he passed around a dozen cars on the highway headed south, which seemed unusual for that time of night. He unfortunately mentioned this to a Press Democrat reporter when he arrived at the county jail; the newspaper took it as evidence that the lynching party came from San Francisco and most papers in the city chased that angle for days, although it was already pretty clear the vigilantes came from Healdsburg or points north.

Before he left Petaluma, Coroner Phillips phoned Frank Welti, the Deputy Coroner for Santa Rosa and ordered an ambulance to be waiting at the cemetery to transport the bodies. After the dead gangsters were cut down they would be taken to the Welti mortuary at 795 Fourth street, which doubled as the town morgue.

Phillips spent nearly an hour at the jail with the sheriff (probably joined by Welti) prior to heading for the cemetery. This was likely when they all had a very earnest discussion about what might happen next – their jobs were not over just because the gangsters were now dead. “He is in a measure responsible for the safe keeping of the bodies until such time as they are interred,” the San Francisco Call reported after speaking with Phillips. And until the remains were shipped out of the county or securely buried, there was a clear and apparent risk that someone might try to get access to the corpses or even steal them.

Keep in mind this was 1920 and in that era Americans did not shy from all things morbid or gruesome, particularly when it came to dead outlaws. The public snatched up postcards of the lynched gangsters being sold in San Francisco and the fellow who bootleged the photo earned approx. $500 in a couple of days (the equivalent to two months’ wages). As noted earlier, souvenir hunters were cutting off bits of the lynching ropes and ripping bark off the hanging tree, but relics from their actual persons – locks of hair, bits of clothing, blood wiped off skin – would be far more valuable. Should Gentle Reader think our 20th century ancestors were above such barbarity, consider that when Bonnie and Clyde were killed in 1934 people rushed in to do exactly that, even trying to cut off Clyde’s trigger finger and, for some reason, his ear.1

There was also a chance that yahoos might decide a single lynching wasn’t good enough and seek to mutilate the bodies. As they were meeting right after the lynching, the Coroner and Sheriff Boyes might have heard some of the otherwise well-disciplined (and well-armed) vigilantes had to be talked out of shooting up the corpses as they swung at the end of ropes. Considering an angry mob nearly breached the fortress-like county jail a few days earlier, it’s hard to imagine much of a defense could be made if a vengeance-seeking crowd suddenly stormed the Welti funeral parlor.

Around 3AM Phillips and Welti lowered the bodies to the ground and loaded them into the ambulance wagon. It’s doubtful either man caught any further sleep that day; the Coroner’s Inquest was held later that morning and they still needed to suss out the dead gangster’s next-of-kin.

Charles Valento’s mother in San Francisco was quickly found, although the 70 year-old woman was reportedly unaware of her son’s recent infamy. She agreed to claim the body and it was driven to the city before nightfall. The whereabouts of his grave remains unknown.

Finding Terry Fitts’ relatives was likewise easy as he was from Santa Rosa and his two sisters were well known, one of them still living in the area. (When told their brother’s body was to be put on display along with the others they requested his face be covered with a cloth, which Welti did.) Not so simple, however, was settling on where to bury his remains.

Readers of this entire series will recall the Santa Rosa episode began when Fitts Sr. died, leaving the large family home on College Ave. unoccupied and conveniently just at a time when Terry and his criminal companions wanted a hideout from San Francisco police. Poppa – who passed away 31 days before his son was lynched – was buried in the family plot in the Odd Fellows’ cemetery just a short walk from the hangman’s tree.

The sisters wanted Terry interred there as well; no way, said the cemetery. From the Argus-Courier:

It is understood that they sought to have the burial in the Fitts’ family plot in Odd Fellows’ cemetery here, but that the management of the cemetery refused to permit it, claiming that such action was justified by their rules and regulations.

While the sisters were with Welti brainstorming about Plan B, obstacles also arose about what to do with George Boyd’s corpse. The Republican reported, “…it might be shipped to Seattle, where it is understood that Boyd’s mother lives, but word is awaited from that city before final disposition of the body by local authorities. If no claim is made on the body it will be buried in potter’s field [now the Chanate Historic Cemetery -je].”

When he was in the county jail and slowly dying from the gunshot wound, Boyd told reporters his mother lived in Seattle although the address he provided didn’t exist (that might have been a newspaper typo, however). Whether anyone was able to find her or not is unknown, but by the end of the day it was decided Boyd was to be buried here – somewhere.

The next day (Saturday, Dec. 11) there was a quiet funeral service at Welti’s for Terrance Fitts, with only a few attending. And with that, the mystery of what happened to their bodies begins.

The Petaluma Courier reported “the hour and the place of [Fitts’] burial was kept private.” Welti announced both men had been buried but would not say where. But the Press Democrat was told there were no interments in any of the local cemeteries, including potter’s field, and no coffins were shipped from Santa Rosa by train.

And in what seemed like a ruse by a newspaper to trick authorities into revealing what happened to the bodies, the warden of Folsom prison received a letter claiming to be from Boyd’s mother in Australia, inquiring where her son was. The warden wrote back only that he “died in Santa Rosa.”

Interviewed by the San Francisco Call, Phillips made the waters even murkier by saying neither Boyd nor Fitts had been buried to his knowledge. All he would admit was they were still somewhere in the county. The paper added there were rumors around town claiming both bodies were unburied but hidden.

We now know that Coroner Phillips had lied to the reporter. He and mortician Welti – and likely the sheriff and other members of law enforcement – had vowed to keep the locations a secret from the public. The death certificates signed by Phillips on December 13 show they were indeed buried on the 11th in part of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. The date is confirmed by entries in the funeral home’s receipt book.

Ray Owen, co-author of the new edition of the cemetery’s burial reference book is confident he has found their burying place, or at least the grave of Fitts. There’s even a small discreet grave marker – it’s been hiding in plain sight for a century. (UPDATE: Ray has now published his findings and it can be revealed the gravesite is at Moke 234.)

Now they were buried, why continue the subterfuge? Keep in mind it was the day after the lynching and souvenir hunters were out in force, shredding the hanging tree of bark and stealing grass and pebbles from around its roots. Should it become known that the graves were just a two minute stroll away, you can bet those same people would be adding handfuls of grave dirt to their ghoulish collections.

Also, it would have been impossible to conceal newly-dug graves. In the previous twelve days Sonoma County had endured nearly constant rain, including a torrential downpour 48 hours earlier that left downtown streets impassable. No matter how careful the gravediggers were, they would have left a muddy mess.

Coroner Phillips also had another reason to keep the location secret: He told the Call he wanted to make sure they did not “fall into the hands of some medical college.” His concern wasn’t that the Fitts sisters and Boyd’s mom would sell their cadavers to Stanford Medical School – most likely it would be pseudoscience enthusiasts hiring bodysnatchers.

During that part of the century the dark nonsense of eugenics was given serious consideration by many institutions of higher education (and yes, including Stanford). Today we associate eugenics mostly with racism – Nazi-ish claims that whites (and usually some very specific European flavor) were by birthright the bestest people ever made and everyone else should just give up and admit they were inferior.

But eugenics also leaned heavily on the notion that some were biologically “defective” because of bad genes, neurological disorders (particularly epilepsy) or lower intelligence. Eugenicists believed such people tended to be insane or become criminals and usually needed to be locked up, forcibly sterilized and denied education. There’s more discussion of this (and how our county became a leader in espousing such bullshit) in “SONOMA COUNTY AND EUGENICS.”2

Given their presumption that criminals all had some sort of physical impairment that could be visually seen or measured, the brains (and skulls! don’t forget the skulls!) of hard-core sociopaths like Boyd and Fitts surely would offer “proof” of their crackpot theories.

But is there any evidence that universities and/or medical schools around 1920 were robbing graves in the name of science, pseudo or otherwise? Yes and no.

No, there aren’t any examples (that I can find) of bodysnatchers specifically targeting criminals, but medical schools in Tennessee, Iowa, Virginia, and probably other states were still dependent upon grave robbers to provide cadavers for student dissection. The bodies were usually those of impoverished Blacks.3

Yes, major educational institutions were acquiring bodies, including brains, well into the mid-20th century – a practice not considered illegal because it was Native Americans they were digging up. UC/Berkeley still has the largest collection with the remains of over 8,000 individuals, including entire skeletons. While not done under the banner of eugenics (usually), some of the anthropologists shared the same racist agendas, such as using head measurements to determine the exact degree of a living person’s “Indian-ness.”4

So Coroner Phillips’ worries that Boyd and Fitts might “fall into the hands of some medical college” were probably unfounded, but we can say that only by viewing history with our perfect 20/20 hindsight. How revealing, though, this was a top concern of his at the time.

Phillips said nothing further about the graves and was never confronted about why he kept it secret. He and Welti must have hoped reporters would tire of asking, which they did; by the end of the month the San Francisco newspapers rarely mentioned the lynching except to say it caused the police to beef up security when the other Howard street gangsters went on trial.

A few months later Phillips told the Press Democrat he was contacted by the supposed Australian mother of Boyd. This time she was asking how he had died and not his whereabouts, so perhaps she really was his mom and not a reporter trying to coax out burial details. The PD reported:

Coroner F. H. Phillips has received a letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Barron of Waterloo, Australia, the mother of George Barron, alias Boyd, who was lynched at Santa Rosa in December together with Terry Fitts and Valento, asking whether her son had died from natural causes, violence or accident, and the coroner will reply to the mother that her son died a violent death and will not go into details. He does not relish the task and will make things as easy as possible for the poor mother.

 

1 Artifacts of famous criminals were usually put on display for an admission fee, and such exhibits sometimes included human bodies. Among the grisly attractions touring the country in the 1920s (and for decades afterward) was Elmer McCurdy, a bank robber whose mummified remains were shown as part of a carnival. A different sideshow had the supposed body of John Wilkes Booth, which was once even kidnapped for ransom.
2 The motherlode of material on eugenicist views on criminality can be found at the archive of the American Eugenics Movement.
3 David C. Humphrey, “Dissection and Discrimination: The Social Origins of Cadavers in America, 1760-1915,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 49 (September 1973). (PDF)
4 Robert E. Bieder, “A Brief Historical Survey of the Expropriation of American Indian Remains,” Native American Rights Fund (1990). (PDF)

 

NEXT: A WELL-ORDERED MILITIA

 

Photo of the hangman's tree supposedly taken on December 11, 1920, the same day the gangsters Boyd and Fitts were buried in the same cemetery. The G.A.R. monument is in the foreground. This image has been modified to remove a significant blemish where the original photo was folded in half
Photo of the hangman’s tree supposedly taken on December 11, 1920, the same day the gangsters Boyd and Fitts were buried in the same cemetery. The G.A.R. monument is in the foreground. This image has been modified to remove a significant blemish where the original photo was folded in half

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GANGSTERS LYNCHED!

[..]

FIRST “TIP” SENT HERE

The first inkling of the lynching came to Santa Rosa by phone from Petaluma just before 11 o’clock. A phone message said it was reported there that the lynching was to take place at 11 o’clock, and asked for information, but at that hour all was quiet on the streets and about the jail. This would seem to reference the report that the party came from San Francisco and may have stopped in Petaluma for something to eat or for gasoline and oil for cars, giving rise to the report.

It is also definitely known by the Petaluma information sent here that there were Healdsburg people in the party.

Further strength is given to the theory that members of the mob were from San Francisco by the report from Coroner Frank H. Phillips, who reported that he met from 15 to 20 automobiles headed south on the highway while he was driving from Petaluma to Santa Rosa to take charge of the bodies of the three men lynched.

[..]

– Press Democrat, December 10 1920
(Complete article is transcribed in chapter seven)

 

15 MACHINES RUSH OFFICERS’ AVENGERS TO SANTA ROSA JAIL
SAN FRANCISCO POLICEMEN IN LYNCH PARTY, IS REPORT

Fifteen automobiles full of San Francisco lynchers went to Santa Rosa to help execute the three Howard street gangsters strung up there early today, according to information developed coincident with the preliminaries of a formal investigation.

The mob that took from the Sonoma County jail the trio of gangsters arrested Sunday after the murder of three peace officers was drawn from a wide area of the north of bay region, as well as San Francisco.

Reports circulated in Sonoma County today that among the members of the mob, all masked, were San Francisco policemen. It was expected that inquiry would be made in San Francisco to determine the basis of this report.

The rumors of San Francisco participation were widespread, and Coroner Frank Phillips of Sonoma County, while on his way from Petaluma to Santa Rosa before dawn, passed a cluster of fifteen cars on their way south.

[..]

– San Francisco Call, December 10 1920

 

City is Quiet Today After Hanging; No Clue to Avengers

[..]

FITTS BURIED
The body of Terrence Fitts was to be buried today in the local cemetery, his sisters having claimed the body on receipt of news of his death. Relatives of the hanged man came to Santa Rosa yesterday and made arrangements for the burial shortly before noon yesterday the body of the Santa Rosa gangster was swathed in a sheet to keep it from the gaze of the thousands of morbid people who formed in long lines to wait their turn to look at the three dead men. This was done at the request of relatives.

BOYD’S BODY HERE
The body of George Boyd, confessed slayer of the three peace officers and accused of ravishing young girls in San Francisco, is being held at the undertaking parlor. It was said today that it might be shipped to Seattle, where it is understood that Boyd’s mother lives, but word is awaited from that city before final disposition of the body by local authorities. If no claim is made on the body it will be buried in potter’s field.

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 11 1920

 

VALENTO’S BODY PASSED THROUGH PETALUMA

The body of Charles Valento, one of the men who was lynched yesterday morning at Santa Rosa, passed through this city in an ambulance last night at 5 o’clock en route to San Francisco early in the afternoon. Many people saw the ambulance go quietly through here, but did not know it carried the body of one of the victims of the lynchers.

The body was sent to the mother of the criminal, who is said to be under a physician’s care. She is 70 years of age and is near collapse. She repeatedly calls for her son and moans, “My Boy, what have they done to you.” She had not known he had been in trouble until notified of the death. She then sent Coroner Phillips word that she would take care of the body.

– Petaluma Morning Courier, December 11 1920

 

BODIES OF THREE LYNCH VICTIMS TAKEN AWAY

The bodies of George Boyd and Terry Fitts were removed Saturday from the morgue where they had been since being brought in early Friday morning following the lynching, according to officials late Saturday night, who declined to give any further information relative to their disposal.

Inquiries at the local cemeteries brought the response that the bodies had not been interred in any of them, and it was also said that the bodies were not shipped from Santa Rosa by train on either railroad line here.

No interments took place in the potter’s field during the day, it was announced.

A report current in Santa Rosa during the day, and printed in newspapers published outside of this city, said that the body of Terry Fitts was interred privately, with only a few persons knowing where it was placed. The hour of the burial was kept quiet, and only those who had to be present were there. These people, it is said, intend to keep the details secret.

Announcement was previously made that Charles Valento’s body had been sent to San Francisco, it having been claimed by the dead man’s mother. It is also said that relatives of Fitts intended to claim his body and give it interment.

[..]

– Press Democrat, December 12, 1920

 

FITTS FUNERAL HELD PRIVATE
The funeral of the late Terry Fitts took place yesterday from Welti’s funeral parlors, Santa Rosa, and was attended by a few people. The hour and the place of the burial was kept private. Fitts’ two sisters requested Coroner Phillips to cover the face of their brother in the morgue from the view of the morbid crowd and their wish was heeded.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, December 12, 1920

 

Mystery Of The Burials

SANTA ROSA. Dec. 12. Deputy Coroner Frank Welti created a mild sensation here this morning when he announced that the bodies of Terrance Fitts and Geo. Boyd, who paid the penalty for murder by being hanged by local citizens, had been removed from the morgue and buried.

At the request of relatives and friends of Fitts and Boyd, Welti said, he refused to give out any information as to when the bodies were taken from the morgue or where they were buried.

Inquiry at all the local cemeteries brought the response that neither of the gangsters had been interred there, so the assumption is that burial was held in another city, possibly San Francisco. On Thursday [sic] relatives of Fitts notified the coroner that they would claim his body. It is understood that they sought to have the burial in the Fitts’ family plot in Odd Fellows’ cemetery here, but that the management of the cemetery refused to permit it, claiming that such action was justified by their rules and regulations.

The body of Valento at the request of his aged mother, was taken to San Francisco on Friday and quietly buried in that city.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, December 13, 1920
[A version of this story appeared in the SF Chronicle Dec. 19 under the headline, “BODIES OF TWO THUGS TAKEN FROM MORGUE”]

 

BODIES HAVE NOT BEEN INTERRED

Coroner F. H. Phillips of Sonoma county when flatly cornered by a Call man over the telephone today, finally admitted that the bodies of Boyd and Fitts have not as yet been buried to his knowledge, but he refused to state where they were, further than to admit that they have not been removed from the county.

The coroner stated that he feels that he is in a measure responsible for the safe keeping of the bodies until such time as they are interred and he does not propose to have the bodies the object of morbid curiosity or perhaps fall into the hands of some medical college. Until such time as they are interred, he feels that it is his duty to give out no information on the subject what ever.

There have been various rumors relative to the final disposal of the bodies of the gangsters. That of Fitts it is said was turned over to the relatives but not buried. That of Boyd is still in the hands of the coroner and is safely hidden away somewhere in the county. He therefore refused to give the Call any information on the subject and does not see why it was sought at this time. Both bodies of course have been embalmed. Valento was buried at San Francisco Saturday, privately. — S. F. Call.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, December 17, 1920

 

Son “Died,” Grim Cable to Mother of Boyd, Lynched

Special Dispatch to The Call. SANTA ROSA, Dec. 21. — Mrs. Elizabeth Barron of Sydney. Australia, today was informed by cable from the Folsom authorities that her son, George Barron, alias Boyd, one of the three gangsters lynched here December 10 for the killing of Sheriff James A. Petray and Detectives Miles Jackson and Lester Dorman of San Francisco, had “died in Santa Rosa.”

Not a word of the lynching was sent to the aged woman, who had written to Warden J. J. Smith making inquiries as to the whereabouts of her son. Word to this effect was received by Coroner Frank Phillips.

The ex-convict’s body is still at the morgue here and will now probably be buried in the potter’s field.

– San Francisco Call, December 21 1920

 

BOYD’S MOTHER SEEKS INFORMATION REGARDING SON

Coroner Frank S. Phillips is in receipt of a letter from J. J. Smith, warden of Folsom penitentiary stating that Mrs. Elizabeth Barron, mother of George Boyd, alias Geo. Barron, is making inquiries for the whereabouts of her son. The letter states that the mother has not heard from the son for some time, and that she is anxious to get information regarding his whereabouts. The mother is residing in Australia.

Warden Smith wrote to the mother that he had authoritative information that her son had died at Santa Rosa on December 10, and he requested Coroner Phillips to break the news of her son’s demise as gently as he could to the mother.

– Sebastopol Times, December 24 1920

 

Mother of Man Lynched Asks How He Died

Coroner F. H. Phillips has received a letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Barron of Waterloo, Australia, the mother of George Barron, alias Boyd, who was lynched at Santa Rosa in December together with Terry Fitts and Valento, asking whether her son had died from natural causes, violence or accident, and the coroner will reply to the mother that her son died a violent death and will not go into details. He does not relish the task and will make things as easy as possible for the poor mother.

– Press Democrat, March 19, 1921

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CONSPIRACIES OF SILENCE

The air was heavy with mist that December morning, peaceful and timeless, each home in Santa Rosa seemingly alone in the world except for neighboring houses not cloaked by fog. You picked up the Press Democrat on the doorstep planning to scan the ads for Christmas presents, but the astonishing headline dampened any enthusiasm for shopping. Nevertheless, you still put on a hat and went downtown – to gawk at the corpses lying on marble slabs in the morgue.

About 3,000 people (including children) queued outside the Welti mortuary on the corner of Fourth and E to see the bodies of the three gangsters lying in the cold room. When the undertakers closed for noon lunch the crowd patiently waited for them to reopen at 2 o’clock. Nobody wanted to lose their place in line, so stores were empty despite Christmas being only two weeks away.

pdheadlinedec10

This is the eighth and final chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID,” which is not a simple story to wrap up. After the three gangsters were hung there were still loose threads to address and knots to untangle.

Most significantly were two conspiracies of silence, both of which remain (mostly) secret still today. There was the conspiracy by the Healdsburg vigilantes to snatch the gangsters and lynch them, which they carried out with military precision – and perhaps most remarkably, maintained the discipline to keep completely quiet about it afterwards. Then there was the plan by Santa Rosa authorities to conceal what happened to the bodies out of concern for grave robbers. Finally, there were related things that happened in the days (and years) that followed and must be mentioned to complete the history of these events.


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

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

Those conspiracies of silence are more like appendices to the lynching story, so I’m breaking them out into parts of their own – otherwise this chapter would be uncomfortably long, and the transcripts of sources would be a jumble of mixed articles spanning from 1919 to 1922. So let’s proceed here with the telling of what happened right after the Dec. 10 lynching before jumping ahead to discover what became of the hanging tree.

Besides standing in line for a gruesome eyeful of the bodies, there were large clusters of people downtown in front of the county jail and outside the Press Democrat and Republican on Fifth street. The PD also had a window display of the bandanas and flour-sack masks discarded by the vigilantes along the road to Healdsburg.

Rumors flew. The vigilantes supposedly were all San Francisco policemen – a belief pushed as all-but-certain by most SF papers. Two oldtimers who had trekked through the morgue thought they recognized gangster George Boyd as a teenager named Riley who lived on Second Street at the turn of the century. (The 1900 census shows a Mary Riley living at 856 Second St. with her son Victor, who was the same age as Boyd.)

There’s no question nearly everyone in town was pleased with the lynching. The Chronicle reported, “On all sides were heard the remarks, ‘They got what was coming to them,’ and ‘Good riddance and a saving of money for their trial.’ All seemed to join in unanimous approval of the ghastly procedure. Ranchers thronged through the streets as if the event were one of carnival nature.”

Had the gangsters not been murdered their arraignments would have been held that morning (although none of them could find a defense lawyer) but charges were dropped because of their deaths. The courtroom appearance of the men – including Boyd on a stretcher – likely would have been a circus, similar to the scene in San Francisco where crowds fought to watch the arraignments of other Howard street gangsters. That it didn’t happen is history’s loss; the District Attorney said the day before that he would be revealing new bombshell charges at the arraignments. It was believed Boyd confessed they plotted to ambush the San Francisco detectives who were pursuing them.

Instead, that morning they used the Supervisor’s chambers at the courthouse to hold the coroner’s inquest.1 But that didn’t just focus on the lynching; testimony also covered the vigilante raid on the jail, details of the murder of the lawmen five days earlier and prior doings of the gangsters around Santa Rosa. That would be a large field to plow even at a capital murder trial, but the coroner crammed it all into a single session and called just five witnesses.

Racing through the narrative of MULTIPLE crimes meant serious questions would not be asked or just given perfunctory attention; inconsistencies with testimony before the Grand Jury were left unclarified. Because this was not an actual trial there was no cross-examination, so Sheriff Boyes wasn’t asked why he didn’t call the Santa Rosa police chief after he knew the vigilantes were coming, or why he left the front door to the jail unlocked.

But no matter; the jury stuck to its simple mission of determining the causes of death for the officers and the lynched men. For the three gangsters, each verdict was exactly the same:

(Name) died from being hanged from the neck by a lynching mob of unknown persons, who stormed the county jail, overpowering the peace officers and forcibly removing him for that purpose. We exonerate the sheriff and his deputies from any blame therewith.

District Attorney Hoyle – who had been informed of the lynching by the Press Democrat and not by the sheriff – vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into who did it, but apparently gave up after only two days because he couldn’t find anyone willing to snitch on the vigilantes. Asked if he planned to impanel a grand jury, he replied: “I can’t call a session until I have evidence to put before them.”

After the inquest, charges were also dropped against poor Dorothy Quinlan, although she was never accused of anything more serious than having bad taste in men. (She supposedly slept through all the yelling and other commotion at the jail while they were being hauled away by the vigilantes.)

Only a single person was ever prosecuted in connection with the gangster’s ill-fated Santa Rosa sojurn: Domenico Casassa – the 71 year-old wine maker who foolishly believed he saw a trace of goodness behind the cold, dead eyes of Terry Fitts. When he was arrested for running a speakeasy that day he was told it was specifically because he had welcomed Fitts and the others at his place on Guerneville Road. Casassa died in 1923 before his case went to trial, but at the time of his arrest the Press Democrat commented,

Cassassa [sic] is a pioneer grape-grower and winemaker of Sonoma county and is well to do. He has a large family, including grandchildren, and it is said his conduct in connection with the San Francisco gangsters has not met with the approval of his family, who it is declared have strenuously protested but to no avail…

The other big development that day was the struggle to keep up with the latest news – details of the jailhouse siege and the lynching trickled out until bedtime. Both Santa Rosa newspapers published four “extras” on Dec. 10 with the PD claiming 11,000 papers were sold and the Republican saying their total was exactly 23,416. While copies were delivered to all the major towns in the county, it’s worth noting the official census count for Santa Rosa that year was 8,758.

(The impact of the Press Democrat’s coverage is exaggerated today because only the first edition of the Dec. 10 Republican survives, while all editions of the Press Democrat are available. The evolution of the story as told in the additions and changes to the PD extras was summarized and partially transcribed in the previous chapter.)

The PD boasted of their extraordinary middle-of-the-night drive to San Francisco so the Call could make a halftone printing plate of the lynched men, but the Republican had its own photo and a similar deal with the Sacramento Bee. An airplane was commissioned in Sacramento to fly here in poor visibility conditions to fetch their image. The PD printed an item on this pilot’s derring-do flight but editor Ernest Finley, ever the churl, did not mention this was for his rival newspaper. The Republican’s photo is shown below. (Warning: Some might find the image disturbing.)

Meanwhile, souvenir hunters continued to assail the hanging tree at the Rural Cemetery collecting and treasuring mementos of the murders. Even before dawn, people in town were stripping it of bark, snapping off limbs and even pulling up the grass. A fund was started to preserve the tree and install a plaque “so that it will be a perpetual reminder to desperadoes, gangsters and gunmen that death is a certain penalty for such murderous attacks.”

The lynching was done on Friday but vandalism on the tree continued unabated through the weekend – and to such an extent that an expert was asked if it would survive. A 24-hour guard was placed on it Saturday, and there were so many sightseers on Sunday that Santa Rosa policemen were stationed at both ends of Franklin ave. to direct traffic.

Unknown man posing in front of the black locust "hangman's tree" in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library
Unknown man posing in front of the black locust “hangman’s tree” in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library

But the locust tree survived and flowered in the spring, casting its shade over the G.A.R. veteran’s monument. In the months that followed it became a popular tourist attraction and probably the top one in Santa Rosa.

And then it was chopped down.

Mrs. Frank C. Newman, who had been elected president of Rural Cemetery Association in April, 1922, ordered the sexton of the cemetery to take it down a month later. She made the decision on her own without consulting other directors of the cemetery’s board, and all of the other members said they would not have approved of the action. Association Secretary Frank Welti resigned on the spot.2

Newman asserted she had a letter from the G.A.R. asking for its removal (she never produced the letter) and that she had the approval of all the women’s clubs in Santa Rosa; the tree was “a reminder of an episode which it were best for our community that we and the world quickly forget,” the federation of the clubs wrote.

Hundreds swooped down on the fallen tree to snag wood chips and other lynching keepsakes, while editor Finley used the occasion to wax nostalgic about the events of December 1920. “There was almost a romantic air about this tree, because the retribution was carried out by an orderly mob…retributive justice, carried out more quickly than the ponderous law could have acted.”

But winds of opinion were shifting. While the lynching was a point of great civic pride right after the event – there was even a lifesize blowup of the PD’s iconic photo kept backstage at the Cline Theater, for purpose unknown – it wasn’t the sort of bucolic, small town “Shadow of a Doubt” image that the Chamber of Commerce and boosters like Finley wanted to promote. They wanted Santa Rosa known (per the future 1946 slogan) as “The City Designed for Living,” not “The City Bent on Hanging Scallywags.”

In short, the movers and shakers came to realize the women’s club federation was right – it was in the town’s best interest not to brag about what happened here. The Press Democrat, which regularly ran “glance at the past” type nostalgia columns, never mentioned the lynching in years to come. For the rest of Ernest Finley’s life, not a word about it would reappear in his newspaper.

Almost thirty years passed until July 1949, when staff writer Frank Herbert (he of sci-fi novel DUNE fame) penned a two-part feature on the murders and lynchings that somehow managed to get almost every single fact wrong. The famous photo – over whose exclusive rights Finley had made such a fuss – would not be printed again until 1968.

So there was actually a third conspiracy of silence at work, this one to not only downplay the lynching itself but to particularly forget Santa Rosa’s complicity and ghoulish misbehavior. Nice communities don’t try to batter down the jailhouse door or parade by the thousands through a morgue. By not mentioning those sticky points the town was shorn of any need to express shame or regret.

For a century the complex story of what happened here in December 1920 has been pared down to its bones. When told nowadays it is a simple tale that begins with how a good man was murdered and ends when the bad men were punished, as the Press Democrat put it at the time, “swinging from the rope’s ends, swaying in the wind and washed by the rain.” Santa Rosa played no part in it whatsoever; why, we can’t even be sure if anyone was here at all that week.

 

 


1 Portions of the coroner’s inquest are transcribed in the previous chapter and appeared complete in the Dec. 11 Press Democrat.
2 Mrs. Frank C. Newman – who is buried in the Rural Cemetery as Minnie Newman Carline – remained president of the Rural Cemetery Association for many years, and made another unilateral decision in 1932 that caused the cemetery to fall into decades of neglect. After a public works project did a major cleanup that year, she decreed there would be no further maintenance of gravesites by volunteers unless the owners/descendants of the individual plots paid for a caretaker to be hired. See “A CEMETERY SO LONG UNCARED FOR“.

NEXT: HIDDEN GRAVES
 

sources

NEWS APALLS HOYLE; WILL START PROBE

“The lawlessness of the thing is what appalls me,” was District Attorney George W. Hoyle’s statement early this morning when informed of the lynching. “It now becomes my duty as district attorney to conduct an investigation to determine, if possible, who are responsible for this lawless act.”

“My God, no!” said Hoyle when he was first informed of the lynching from The Press Democrat office at 2:30 this morning. The district attorney had not then heard of the occurrence and was so stunned at the news that he was unable to comment further at that moment.

– Press Democrat, December 10 1920

 

SISTERS’ PLEA SAVES FITTS’ FACE FROM MORGUE EXPOSURE

The body of Terence Fitts, black sheep, lynched at Santa Rosa, was saved from the eyes of morbid crowds by the petition of his sister, Mrs. Henry Pyburn, 537 Fifth avenue, San Francisco.

In the petition another sister, Mrs. Cecil Riley of Santa Rosa, joined, and Fitts’ face was covered while a crowd of 3000, including women with babies in arms, viewed his body and those of George Boyd and Charles Valento.

Fitts will be buried by the family, but not in the family plot. Exactly a month before the day of Fitts’ death his father was buried in the cemetery a few feet from the tree on which the son was hanged. Fitts as a boy had played about the tree before he became the despair of a respectable family.

Valento’s body was shipped to his mother, who lives in Howard street.

It was expected that Boyd’s body would be claimed by relatives from Sacramento. If not, he will be buried In the Santa Rosa potter’s field.

– San Francisco Call, December 11 1920

 

CROWDS OF CURIOUS GATHER AT JAIL AND VIEW BODIES LAID OUT AT MORGUE

Throughout the day crowds congregated in front of the County Jail and in the downtown streets to talk over the dramatic events of the night before. On all sides were heard the remarks, “They got what was coming to them,” and “Good riddance and a saving of money for their trial.” All seemed to join in unanimous approval of the ghastly procedure. Ranchers thronged through the streets as if the event were one of carnival nature. Shops were deserted and business was virtually suspended.

Long lines of curious citizens passed through the morgue, where the three dead men lay on plain marble slabs. The body of Terence Fitts was covered in deference to a request of his relatives here…The bodies of the trio continued to be the chief attraction during the morning. At noon the morgue was closed until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. A long line waited patiently for the reopening…

– San Francisco Chronicle, December 11 1920

 

City is Quiet Today After Hanging; No Clue to Avengers

[..]

That Boyd might be an alias of the slayer developed yesterday when the crowd were passing through the morgue.

Two elderly men who have lived in Santa Rosa for years both are said to have exclaimed on looking at Boyd, “That is the Riley boy. He lived here 20 years ago.”

They based their belief on resemblance Boyd had for a family by the name of Riley who lived here a score of years past and who conducted a restaurant. Boyd admitted to the officers that he had a sister living in this city many years ago by the name of Riley and that he had visited her several times.

From these two angles it appears today that Boyd also might have been a former Santa Rosa boy. The Riley family lived on Second street…

[..]

HOYLE BUSY

District Attorney Hoyle spend the day in gathering statements relative to the summary executions of the three gangsters.

Practically the entire day was spent in this manner and Hoyle said it was the first step he would make in carrying out his official duties in connection with the case.

Asked if he would call a grand jury session to consider the hanging, Hoyle replied: “I can’t call a session until I have evidence to put before them. I am just beginning my investigations today and until I have taken several statements I can’t tell whether or not the grand jury will be called.”

Apparently the mystery which involved the identify of the avenging throng was still buried from officials and as no trace or inkling of the men who participated in the hanging has leaked out doubt exists in the many minds if an official investigation will yield results…

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican December 11 1920

 

No Grand Jury Probe Expected At Santa Rosa

There is little likelihood of a Grand Jury investigation into yesterday’s triple lynching, District Attorney George W. Hoyle said today as he began his formal inquiry into the mob action. He began his hearing with a program calling for the testimony of county jail officials and any witnesses who might be found, to tell of the actual lynching of George Boyd, Terence Fitts and Charles Valento. There seemed little likelihood of any evidence being secured to identify members of the mob, and without such Identification grand jury action would be improbable. “There will be no grand jury investigation,” said Hoyle, “unless I get evidence enough to warrant it.”

– San Francisco Call, December 11 1920

 

CROWDS VIEW BODIES; CITY QUIETING DOWN

[..]

There was a crowd at the undertaking parlors where the bodies of the lynched men had been removed and thousands asked to view them during Friday. Conspicuous among the crowds were many women and children…

– Press Democrat, December 11 1920

 

CASSASSA ARRESTED
FEDERAL AGENTS SAY WINEMAKER IS ILLICIT DEALER

D. Cassassa, widely known wineman who resides on the Guerneville road west of town, was arrested Saturday night on a charge of selling liquor illegally…

…The arrest comes as a direct result of the harboring of Terry Fitts, Charles Valento and Geo. Boyd recently, and providing the liquor for the men on their various visits, it is declared by the arresting officers. He has been in trouble before, and it is said there is a case pending against him in the Justice Court for selling liquor to Indians which has never been brought to trial.

Cassassa is a pioneer grape-grower and winemaker of Sonoma county and is well to do. He has a large family, including grandchildren, and it is said his conduct in connection with the San Francisco gangsters has not met with the approval of his family, who it is declared have strenuously protested but to no avail. He will now have to answer before the federal grand jury, and if indicted, as no doubt he will be, will have to stand trial before the United states circuit court at Sacramento.

– Press Democrat, December 12 1920

 

PETRAY FUNERAL WILL BE HELD TODAY IN HEALDSBURG

[..]

Both Mayor Rutherford and Chief of Police George W. Mathews announced yesterday that outlawry and flouting of the law must come to an end in Santa Rosa. Those who have long been suspected of breaking the law in various ways will he rounded up without delay, so that there can not be any possibility in future of the town, or anyone in it, harboring such desperate criminals as the three now in jail…

– Press Democrat, December 7 1920

 

We Have Had Our Lesson; Shall We Profit by It?

The sympathy of the entire community will be extended to the relatives and friends of the three brave officers who were murdered here Sunday. It was a shocking affair, and created more feeling than has previously been manifested in Sonoma county for a long time. That three such men should have been laid low by a worthless human rat is worse than shocking; it is horrible, appalling.

And now that the community has had its lesson, shall we profit by it, or merely go along in the same old way? This community has been infested far too long by the presence of such men as those responsible for the tragedy of Sunday afternoon. This is not the place for such cattle to congregate. They should be given to understand that their presence here is not wanted. Santa Rosa cannot afford to be known as a hang-out for criminals and moral degenerates. Whenever they appear, they must be told to move on, and without a moment’s delay. The places that harbor such criminals must be closed up, and kept closed. When criminals and cut-throats find things too hot for them in San Francisco and have to clear out, they must understand that we don’t want them up this way, even temporarily. Their presence is a menace, their very proximity a blight.

Officers, do your duty!

– Press Democrat, December 7 1920

 

START CLEANUP OF ALL IDLERS

That Santa Rosa and Sonoma county be immediately cleaned of all undesirable characters was the edict issued by the sheriff’s office and the chief ot police yesterday.

Orders to officers have already been issued to arrest every person in the city or vicinity of questionable occupation or who is found loitering around any of the saloons or wineries of the city or county.

Not only will a determined effort be made to rid the county of any persons of criminal inclination or intent, but determined action will also be begun to suppress and eradicate places in the county or city where such people rendezvous.

Sheriff John M. Boyes stated Tuesday that the first work which he would undertake would be to ask the co-operation of every peace officer north of San Francisco to join in making this territory too hot for criminals or their associates.

City Recorder C. N. Collins has already started action so far as his court is concerned by inflicting jail sentences for drunkenness. Following the sentence ot five to jail Monday not a drunk could be found in Santa Rosa Monday evening, and underground channels sent the information that several suspected bootleggers had quit their trade in the city. George Matthews, chief of police, is on the warpath and indicates that the bootleggers will not merely go into cover for a few days and then open up again. They are going to be stopped, he declares, once and for all time.

Hoboes, yeggs, idlers and hangers-on about the city are to be arrested and given the stiffest sentence that the law will allow, said Chief Matthews Tuesday. Santa Rosa is going to be known as an unsafe place for criminals.

– Press Democrat, December 8 1920

 

SAN FRANCISCO NEWSPAPER MEN ON SCENE

Soon after the news was telephoned to San Francisco, of the lynching in Santa Rosa, machines carrying San Francisco newspaper men, were soon on their way to the scene. Ralph Cromwell, special writer for the Chronicle, who had covered the shooting of the peace officers Sunday, also covered the lynching story for the big daily.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, December 11, 1920

 

REPUBLICANS WITH LYNCH STORY HAVE BIG SALE IN S. F.

The first word of the summary action taken by the men who hanged Fitts, Boyd and Valento yesterday was sent out by the Santa Rosa Republican which tipped off the majority of the San Francisco papers and which kept them supplied with the news of developments.

In addition to wiring and telephoning in the news the Santa Rosa Republican rushed 100 copies of the extra editions to the United News Agents, San Francisco. So great was the demand for the Santa Rosa paper that an hour after the first ones were received the Republican was sent a telegram asking for more…

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 11 1920

 

11,000 COPIES OF PRESS DEMOCRAT SPREAD THE STORY

The Press Democrat scored a tremendous success yesterday in its handling of the big news growing out of the lynching of Boyd, Fitts and Valento, the San Francisco gangsters. By all odds the most sensational event that ever took place in the history of the county, it was treated by this newspaper accordingly. More than 11,000 copies of The Press Democrat were printed and sold during the day, and the paper was in circulation in all parts of Sonoma county long before daylight. Four separate editions were issued, each replete with sensational details valuable to our readers.

The first edition was in the form of a comprehensive extra, giving a complete a complete account of the lynching. This was on the streets more than two hours before any other newspaper appeared, with only an abridged story and many of the details incorrect. The Press Democrat’s big extra was rushed by automobile to all the important towns in the county, as well as to many of the smaller places, and was followed an hour or more later by a complete morning edition containing two whole pages of news describing the lynching and other features associated with it. This edition was rushed to every town in the county, and in each and every instance all the papers sent out by our distributors were sold, and there was demand for more. Five separate shipments were made to Sebastopol, three to Healdsburg, two to Sonoma and Petaluma, and all day long scores of newsboys were busy on the streets disposing of Press Democrats, for which there appeared be a constant and ever-increasing demand.

Within half an hour after the lynching occurred, The Press Democrat had two photographers on the scene, and shortly afterwards Ernest Ridley with a finished photograph of the three men was making fast time in a high-powered car to Sausalito, where a powerful launch was waiting to convey him across the bay to Meiggs wharf, the nearest point. Here a taxicab was in waiting and Ridley with his photograph was rushed to the Call office, arriving there at 6:15 a. m. He waited there while two halftones were manufactured, one for the Call and the other for The Press Democrat. In less than two hours he was on his way home, bearing the finished cut, and the first and only picture of the lynching to be printed here in any newspaper came out in the noon edition of The Press Democrat, making a big sensation.

At the same time as The Press Democrat was assembling the data of the lynching, messages were flashed to the outside world. By Press Democrat service the Associated Press was enabled to put out 2500 words on the telegraph wire before 2 o’clock in the morning.

A crowd was assembled in front of The Press Democrat office all day long, reading the bulletins and extras posted on the plate glass windows and examining the mementos of the occasion that had been placed on display, while two people were kept busy at the telephone almost the entire day answering inquiries and giving out information relative to the sensational event with which the day had been ushered in.

– Press Democrat, December 11 1920

 

Lynching Photo Fraud

A copy of the photograph of the lynching taken at the direction of The Press Democrat early Friday morning was made into post cards by an enterprising man in San Francisco under an alleged copyright, and thousands disposed of before the police ordered the sale stopped. It is said that the man cleared up $500 in the transaction.

– Press Democrat, December 12 1920

 

THE BEE GETS PHOTO BY AIRPLANE
Mather Field Ship Brings Picture of Lynching

Through the co-operation of Captain T. S. Voss, acting for Major B. M. Atkinson, Commanding Officer at Mather Field, the Bee is enabled to publish to-day the photograph of the three gangsters hanged by the mob at Santa Rosa early this morning as they appeared swinging from the limb of an oak tree in the cemetery there.

Upon receipt of word at noom to-day that a flashlight photograph had been taken by one of those present at the lynching, The Bee arranged through Captain Voss for the dispatch of a De Haviland 450-horsepower Liberty Motor airplane, capable of making 100 miles an hour, to Santa Rosa in order to obtain one of the pictures.

ENCOUNTER FOG

Lieutenant W. A. Maxwell and Cadet L. H. Scott were assigned to the trip.

The two hopped off on Mather Field at 1:22 p. m. and arrived at Santa Rosa at 2:30 p. m. after encountering a heavy fog at intervals.

At Santa Rosa the pictures were already at Noonan Field there, through advance arrangement. At 2:45 p. m. they were in the hands of the birdmen and on their way to Sacramento. The landing was made at Mather Field at 3:40 p. m. From there the photographs were rushed to the engravers by Howard Meiss on a motorcycle.

– Sacramento Bee, December 10, 1920

 

Sacramento Paper Sends Airplane to Get Lynch Picture

The Sacramento Bee sent an airplane from Sacramento to Santa Rosa yesterday to secure a photograph of the lynching scene. The machine lighted in the Noonan field, where it was met by a representative with the picture. The plane was not here more than quarter of an hour and made the round trip in record time.

– Press Democrat, December 11 1920

 

PRESERVATION OF LYNCHING TREE IS URGED

That a public subscription be taken up for the preservation and labeling of the locust tree on which Boyd, Fitts and Valento were hung, so that it will be a perpetual reminder to desperadoes, gangsters and gunmen that death is a certain penalty for such murderous attacks as that of Sunday, is the suggestion made from several quarters here this morning.

One of the first to suggest such a subscription. and the securing of an engraved plate, giving the date and details of the lynching, and the cause for the action, was R. D. Robinson, who contributed fifty cents as a starter for such a fund, and asked that the newspapers of Santa Rosa accommodate people of like opinion by receiving their contributions.

Robinson declares as his belief that the tree should he preserved as an everlasting reminder that murders of police of officers like that in which Sheriff Petray and Detectives Jackson and Dorman did not go unpunished, even if such punishment be by mob action.

– Press Democrat, December 10 1920

 

LYNCH TREE GUARDED

After a day and night in which the lynching tree in Rural cemetery was unguarded, and curiosity seekers removed most of the bark and many of the smaller limbs, the caretaker of the cemetery stationed a guard over it, and has stopped further abuse of the tree at the hands of souvenir seekers.

Tree experts have stated their opinion that not enough bark has been removed to seriously harm the tree, and believe that it will stand and continue to live as a reminder of the lynching and the events which preceded it.

– Press Democrat, December 12 1920

 

LYNCHING TREE DRAWS CROWDS

All day long Sunday there was a stream of automobiles passing along the cemetery road, the curious occupants seeking a view of the tree on which the gangsters were lynched Friday morning.

The traffic became so heavy, with machines passing alone the road from both directions, that it was necessary to call on the traffic police for regulation, with the result that an officer was stationed at each end of the road to maintain order.

The automobiles were from all parts of Sonoma county, and the fine weather of the day attracted many people from San Francisco and other bay cities and from other counties in this vicinity.

– Press Democrat, December 14 1920

 

TWO HUNDRED PYTHIANS SEE COUNTY JAIL

Sight-seeing Pythians, Wednesday, to the number of 200 or more, stormed the Sonoma county Jail, overwhelmed Douglas M. Bills, undersheriff, and almost broke into the barred section at the rear, so enamored were they with the beauty of the building. As a part of the attraction, Santa Rosa is showing the visiting delegates to the grand lodge encampment, Knights of Pythias, the county Jail received more than its share of praise and interest from the visitors.

The gruesome collection reminiscent of the late triple lynching here, drew the greatest attention from the visitors. This collection, which is on display in the sheriff’s office, includes a large photograph of the three hanging to the tree; the gun which fired the fatal shots, empty cartridges, the hangmen’s knots cut from the ropes, and other articles.

The late Sheriff Petray, killed by the San Francisco gangsters was a well-beloved Knight and extended the invitation to the grand lodge to hold their encampment in Santa Rosa at the 1920 meeting. For this reason, his many brother Knights and friends from other sections of the state, were especially interested in the collection.

– Press Democrat, May 19 1921

 

Grim “Hangman’s Tree,” Reminder Of Lynching In 1920, Is Laid Low By Ax

By THE SPECTATOR

The grim reminder of Sonoma county retributive justice — the cemetery locust tree to which on December 10, 1920 a mob hanged the three slayers of Sheriff James A. Petray and two San Francisco detectives — has passed into history.

Yesterday morning, acting on the orders of a woman, Mrs. Frank C. Newman, president of the board of directors of the Rural Cemetery Association, the ax was laid to the roots of the tree.

Today it lies in lengths on the ground, while chips from the trunk and pieces of limb are being carried into hundreds of homes in Santa Rosa, and taken far away by interested people as souvenirs.

TOURIST ATTRACTION

The “lynching tree,” as it became known all over the nation after the news of the hanging was broadcasted from Santa Rosa, was always a first attraction to visitors in Santa Rosa. There was almost a romantic air about this tree, because the retribution was carried out by an orderly mob five days after the murder of the there [sic] peace officers. This was no bitter, hotblooded revenge. It was retributive justice, carried out more quickly than the ponderous law could have acted.

The tree, itself as if to give justification to the deed, burst through the shackles of the tradition which had decreed that a “hangman’s tree” must die, and broke into new foliage early in the spring which followed the lynching. And, as if still proud, again this year it threw out new green leaves, and was in the full flower of spring bloom when laid low by the ax.

When the news spread that the tree had been cut down crowds of people again visited the old cemetery and carried away fragments as souvenirs. Then a general inquiry was started as to why the tree had been cut down and the splendid shade it had afforded destroyed forever.

ACTION IS DEFENDED

Sexton Mets said the tree had been hewn down under an order issued by Mrs. Frank C. Newman, president of the board of directors of the Rural Cemetery association. When Mrs. Newman was interviewed she stated that she had exercised her authority as president of the board in ordering the tree cut down. She said members of the Grand Army had requested its removal and had urged this in a letter she had received.

Other members of the board, however, were greatly surprised and stated that had they been approached they would not have consented to the destruction of the tree. One director stated that the site for the Grand Army plot given that organization was selected on account of the presence of the shade the big locust tree would afford at similar exercises to those held on Decoration Day. But the tree with its associations and history is gone, and cannot be replaced.

– Press Democrat, May 31 1922

 

“HANGMAN’S TREE” REMOVAL PRAISED BY CLUBWOMEN AND OPPOSED BY CEMETERY BOARD

Discussion has raged pro and con around town on the merits of the destruction of the “hangman’s tree” in Rural cemetery, and the action has been followed by endorsement from the Sonoma County Federation of Women’s clubs on the one hand, and an adverse criticism by the majority of the cemetery board of directors on the other.

Secretary Frank Welti tendered his resignation as secretary of the Rural cemetery association at a meeting held Wednesday evening. Mrs. Emma Kopf was elected to fill the vacancy. It is asserted that all of the directors in attendance at the meeting expressed themselves us protesting against the action of Mrs. Frank C. Newman president of the Board, in ordering the tree cut down early Tuesday morning before Memorial Day exercises started.

Mrs. Newman was not present at the meeting. She was prevented by illness from attending the session according to a report received by the other directors.

RESOLUTION ENDORSES

On the other hand, Mrs. Newman’s action received endorsement of the women’s clubs when the federation meeting Wednesday afternoon adopted a resolution, which reads as follows:

“Whereas, the so-called ‘hangman’s tree’ has vanished from the place where it stood, a reminder of an episode which it were best for our community that we and the world quickly forget, “Be it, Resolved, that the Sonoma County Federation of Women’s Clubs in convention assembled at Santa Rosa, May 31, 1922, commend the removal of such tree.”

Signed by the following members of the Saturday Afternoon club: …

The tree in question, a towering locust, was planted many years ago. Because of its shade its site was picked for the G. A. R. monument to “unknown dead,” where exercises are annually held on Memorial Day.

The tree burst into national notice December 10, 1920, when an organized mob took George Boyd, Terry Fitts and Charlie Valento, slayers of Sheriff James A. Petray and two San Francisco detectives five days previously, from the county jail early in the morning, and hanged them to a horizontal limb of the tree.

Since then it has been visited by thousands of tourists who had heard of the revenge meted out to the three men, said to have been connected with the outrages ol the Howard street gang in San Francisco.

Mrs. Newman declared her action in ordering the tree cut down had been taken in response to many pleas from G. A. R. veterans and others, who declared it inappropriate that a “hangman’s tree” should grow in the G. A. R. plot.

– Press Democrat, June 1 1922

 

Santa Rosa Republican as reprinted in the Sacramento Bee, December 10, 1920
Santa Rosa Republican as reprinted in the Sacramento Bee, December 10, 1920

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