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THE WICKERSHAM MURDERS

It was a fearsome crime and although newspapers in those days were packed with stories about terrible murders, this incident was so horrific that news of it spread nationwide, becoming the first time most Americans heard of a place called Sonoma county. Even your great -great (-great?) grandmother Augusta in far-away Minnesota read this wire story on the front page of her local paper in 1886:

CLOVERDALE, Cal., Jan 23–Details reached here to-day of a double murder, the victims of which are a prominent farmer, Jesse C. Wickersham, and wife….Wickersham was found sitting in a chair in the diningroom dead, with blood oozing from a wound in the breast and another in the head. Mrs. Wickersham was found dead on the bed in a bed-room up stairs, her hands and feet bound and a wound in her breast. The valuables on both bodies were intact, which showed robbery was not the object of the crime. All the wounds were inflicted by a shotgun. Strong circumstantial evidence points to a Chinese cook, Ah Kai, employed by the murdered couple. Ah Kai is nowhere to be found…1

The picture it painted portrayed nightmarish scenes: A woman tied up on her bed, the gruesome view of her husband, the idea that both were innocents slaughtered senselessly by a member of their household. That the supposed mad killer was a Chinese immigrant only confirmed what fear-mongering politicians and the press had been shouting for years.

But aside from the Wickershams indeed being murdered, most of the important facts in the article were wrong. Robbery probably was the motive; no evidence implicated the Chinese cook, who immediately became the prime suspect only because his whereabouts were unknown and other (more likely) culprits weren’t considered.

The Wickersham killings had an immediate impact on Sonoma county and the state, leading to boycotts of Chinese businesses and expulsion of immigrants from towns – and its ripples even reached Congress as more anti-Chinese legislation passed in the following years. But despite its importance. actual details of the Wickersham case never have been closely examined.

What follows is part one, which dives into the conflicting stories about the double murder; part two follows the manhunt for the Chinese cook and suggests who were the more likely suspects; part three provides overall context, showing why our ancestors were quick to presume the cook was guilty and what they did immediately afterward.

This is a tricky tale to write because every newspaper added, omitted and/or contradicted details found in other papers. Often the differences were minor – but sometimes they were critical to interpreting events. In almost every case I selected a version that came from an interview with someone with first-hand knowledge, but some players were so eager to implicate the Chinese man that they apparently lied or exaggerated, and in one case, possibly tampered with the crime scene. Any non-trivial differences are discussed. If you want the complete scoop, newspaper transcriptions for the whole series will be available for download in a separate text file.

As we begin, keep in mind this is an important moment in our history only because of a perfectly awful set of circumstances. Had the Wickershams been murdered six months earlier or later the tragedy might have been little noticed – but it happened at the peak of local anti-Chinese frenzy. Had the Wickersham ranch not been so hard for authorities to reach, accurate details might have been reported quickly – instead, newspapers fed the public’s hunger for news by printing lies and rumors. And even Mother Nature seemed to conspire to make any possible investigation difficult – there was a Perfect Storm before the crime was discovered which likely obliterated evidence.

Location of the Wickersham ranch and vicinity on the map from the 1898 county atlas

 

The winter of 1885-1886 was fairly mild and dry in Sonoma county – except for the third week of January, when the North Bay was slammed with torrential rains and high winds. There was snow on St. Helena and Sonoma Mountains; major roads were impassible, with the well-traveled route through the Sonoma Valley compared to a lake.

It was just before the biggest storm hit on Wednesday the 20th when two Indians showed up at Elliott Jewell’s ranch, far from any town in the rugged northwest corner of the county. Jewell knew the men and considered them friendly. “You see Wickersham?” he was asked. “Wickersham” was Jesse C. Wickersham, who had a place with his wife about two miles away. Jewell replied he had not seen his neighbor recently. They asked again, “Where Wickersham?” and then, “You come Wickersham?” He promised to ride over the next day and check on his friends. 2

With the weather clear mid-morning on Thursday, Jewell went over but did not approach the cabin, apparently because he saw no smoke from the chimney nor other sign of life. “I had already made up my mind something was wrong,” he told a reporter a few days later, “possibly a murder.” He detoured back to the Indian’s camp about a half-mile away from the Wickersham place, where they had been hired to cut wood. 3

When had anyone last seen a person at the cabin? He asked. Not since mid-morning on Monday; on Wednesday, “they said they had gone down to the house, and fearful of approaching it, they had stood afar off and hallooed for Wickersham, but without an answer.” 4

“Taking the two Indians with me, I attempted to open the door of the sitting-room but found it locked. The window was down and I pulled out the sash. The Indians then suggested that I should come round to the dining-room. I did so. The door did not yield. I went to the window, pulled aside the blind, and there my eyes fell upon the rigid form of my old friend – a blanket about his head and his feet in a pool of blood.” 5

Without investigating further, Jewell immediately returned to his horse and went home, where he fetched his wife and headed towards Skaggs’ Springs, the nearest place where he could seek help. 6


It was fourteen miles to the Skaggs’ Hot Springs resort, where hopefully the telephone and telegraph lines were still up despite the overnight storm winds. Jewell knew the winding road well and in good weather he probably could get there in under three hours. That day it apparently took him twice that long. The weather had made the route treacherous; the next morning the county coroner’s horse would slip and fall along this road enroute to the crime scene.

The long ride probably gave Jewell and his wife time to reflect. They had last seen the Wickershams about three weeks earlier, when the two couples spent the weekend together to celebrate the new year. “We were continually over at each other’s places,” he later told a reporter. But aside from the companionship of being the only neighbors within walking distance, they didn’t have much in common. 7

Jewell was more of a gentleman farmer and the place he called “Castle Rock Ranch” was the couple’s country home. At the time Jewell was 35 and owned the Petaluma News Depot, one of the most important businesses in south county because it handled all newspaper, magazine and book sales. Although his parents were rich he seemingly did well on his own, later owning a hop ranch near Fulton and trying his luck at gold mining in the Yukon. The couple mainly lived in Petaluma before moving on to Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Jesse C. Wickersham had a very different lifestory. His uncle was Isaac G. Wickersham, the wealthiest man in Sonoma county and president of the National Gold Bank of Petaluma – one of nine banks in the state allowed to actually print money. Jesse was 52 and had lived in his uncle’s shadow for years, working as an assistant cashier and notary at the bank, then as an insurance agent for another of his uncle’s companies. He married the sister of his uncle’s wife, a widow who was his same age. He was also dependent upon his in-laws; he and wife Sarah lived with them in Petaluma, and his father-in-law was co-owner of the ranch.

There was something the matter with Jesse which was never explained. “About Wickersham being poorly – that is true,” said a Healdsburg man who owned property near the ranch. “He is a weakly man – unable to ride and unable to look after the rancho properly.” Jewell agreed he was “in a very sickly condition” when he first moved to the country, but said he was better now and “could ride about and do light work.” 8

Or maybe the problem was psychological. Unlike the Jewells who came and went between their ranch and Petaluma, Jesse and his wife apparently remained there all the time. That they chose to live a reclusive life at one of the most remote places in Sonoma county is worth noting along with his earlier “failure to launch” – never advancing beyond menial clerical jobs, despite the remarkable advantage of his family connections.

Another important detail in his bio: Jesse was a Civil War vet who served almost the entire duration of the war, advancing to First Lieutenant (not Captain, as claimed in some of the contemporary articles). He was in the 2nd Iowa Infantry – where nearly half the regiment was wounded or killed – and fought in some of the worst battles, including Vicksburg, Shiloh and Atlanta; perhaps he had shrapnel that later dangerously shifted in his body, or maybe he had severe PTSD.

The cabin of Sarah and Jesse Wickersham as seen today. All photos here courtesy David Otero and Wickersham Ranch

 

The Jewells reached Skaggs’ Springs in late afternoon and fortunately, both telephone and telegraph lines were functioning – no sure thing in rural Sonoma county even 25 years later, as outlying customers provided the wires to connect to the nearest company office, which in this case was Geyserville.

Jewell either spoke or telegraphed the coroner, sheriff and I. G. Wickersham. Some of the misinformation that spread over the following days was probably due to the lo-fi quality of the telephone connection – the wood cutters were first identified as Italians and not Indians, for example. And soon after that all lines to Skaggs’ Springs went down, blocking reporters from asking questions or receiving any updates for two long days.

Although there was little more than an hour before the last “up-train” departed from Petaluma, the county coroner and marshal were onboard headed north, along with Fred Wickersham, the adult cousin of Jesse. They were joined by others in towns along the way;  the party that finally arrived at the Wickersham ranch included at least 17 men and likely more.

It took them around twelve hours to get to the ranch overnight from Cloverdale. The Dry Creek crossing was flooded out; there Sheriff Bishop turned back while the others swam their horses across. Other streams and creeks were swollen from the week’s storms and they also had to swim the horses across Hot Spring creek. The coroner’s horse fell, injuring him and Dr. Swisher “lost his horses” (no further details of what that meant). Healdsburg Constable Truitt called it “one of the hardest trips of my experience.” 9

While they were still slogging through the mud heading to the crime scene, the rest of the county was afire with rumor and gossip. “The news was carried from mouth to mouth, and soon the horror was the theme of conversation on every hand.” 10

The first published article appeared the same evening as Jewell’s telephone calls, which is to say the only known facts were that Wickersham was dead and the whereabouts of his wife and Chinese cook were unknown. The Oakland Tribune set a low bar with its story datelined Santa Rosa: “…there are not a few people here who express the opinion that [Mrs. Wickersham] may have met a fate worse than death to a woman of her character, and that her former servant, after murdering his master may have carried her off to some hiding place, possibly aided by confederate of his own race, for the basest purposes…” 11

Wickersham’s mysterious illness was the core of a widespread rumor the next day. An unnamed man “from near that locality” rode into Santa Rosa and claimed he knew what happened: “…Wickersham, who had been for a long time in low health, died suddenly, while sitting in his chair, from hemorrhage of the lungs. His wife, who had previously dispatched the Chinaman for the doctor, after finding that her husband was dead, threw a blanket over him, and started for the neighbors, fainting on the way.” 12

The hemorrhage theory was chewed over for two days, then forgotten once the bodies were found. But another rumor persisted for weeks – that the Chinese killer had “outraged” Sarah Wickersham. The inquest report did not mention sexual assault and the family vehemently denied it was true. “The statements that have been made in the papers concerning foul outrages are not true, nor are they kind,” Fred Wickersham said the day of the funerals. His banker father also asked for understanding: “Our feelings can better be imagined than described, but it makes the pangs of regret the keener when such reports are spread. It is bad enough, God knows, without making the facts worse.” Ignoring their pleas, newspapers – particularly papers in Sonoma county outside of Petaluma, including Santa Rosa’s Sonoma Democrat – continued to claim she had been raped. 13

Meanwhile, back on the ranch (oh, how I have longed for a chance to use that phrase) the party arrived a few hours after dawn Friday, having ridden all night except for a short rest at Skaggs’ Springs. While others were unsaddling, Constable Truitt was the first to enter the house. This was unfortunate because he was an unreliable figure; he exaggerated his role in the events and gave the press an interpretation of Sarah’s death which contradicted the coroner’s report (he also pushed the “outraged” claim). That he was alone in the house for several minutes casts doubt on whether the crime scene was really undisturbed. 14

Scene of the Jesse Wickersham murder. The door to the left of the fireplace led to the kitchen, and the door on the left wall led to a bedroom, where presumably Sarah’s body was found. A back bedroom can be partially seen through the open kitchen door.

 

When the group entered the cabin they found Truitt examining Jesse’s body, which was in a chair with its back to the fireplace. He had been shot in the back of the head as the couple was sharing a meal.

“He was sitting at the table as though he had fallen asleep,” Marshal Blume told a Santa Rosa reporter. “His head had dropped over to tbe left side slightly and the chin was resting on his breast…The plate was upset in his lap. The plate of his wife, which was opposite, had potatoes on it and was undisturbed. There was a piece of pie at each place. The chair which had been occupied by Mrs. Wickersham was overturned.” 15

There was at least one reporter there who wrote a remarkably detailed account of the scene for the Petaluma Courier. Evidence showed the shotgun blast came from the kitchen doorway:

The kitchen door on both sides was painted white. On the kitchen side, about four feet from the floor, were marks of powder burn almost as large as a man’s hand. The gun from which the shot was fired that ended the life of the owner of the house was evidently held close against the door, and in that position the muzzle would have been only about five feet from the body of the unsuspecting victim. All present came to the conclusion that the murderer had certainly opened the door only a few inches, thus being able to level his gun on the husband without allowing it to project beyond the edge, while the door screened him from the wife’s view. 16

Jesse had another shotgun wound on his right side. The coroner did not say which shot he believed was first, but either of them would have been fatal. The significance of this shot is discussed in part two.

For reasons unknown, someone had tried hard to stop the bleeding before he died. Again from the Courier:

Beneath the chair on which the body rested were two pools of blood, the clothing worn by the deceased also being saturated. About the neck was twisted a large linen tablecloth, and underneath it several napkins. These were almost as thoroughly soaked with blood as if they had been dipped into a bucket filled with it. From the corners and here and there on the edge only could it be told what the original color of the articles were. From the snowy whiteness of these spots, still stiff with starch, it was evident that the tablecloth was taken from the drawer in which the linen was kept for the express purpose of absorbing the blood. 17

Sarah was found in their bedroom. Her wrists were tied behind her back with the same clothesline rope looped around her chest, the end tied to the bed (I’m guessing the rails of a brass bed). She was half-kneeling beside it with her head resting on the bed. She had one shotgun wound to her right side. The bed was neatly made and unruffled. The coroner made no mention of sexual assault, but he also did not describe the condition of her face, which several newspapers described as being “mutilated.” One account claimed her nose was broken and the reliable Petaluma Courier reporter wrote her “face was swollen and bruised.”

And then there was the cake story. “One of the most curious things discovered was a piece of cake, which had been placed by the murderer after accomplishing his diabolical designs on the pillow beside the dead woman. It is said that this is a custom of the Chinese to exorcise evil spirits from the bodies of the dead,” wrote one Healdsburg paper. In another account there were five pieces of cake. 18

There is indeed a religious belief that the spirit of someone who has died violently can become a “hungry ghost,” but it’s hardly a secret that Chinese generally made food offerings to the dead. The meticulous Courier reporter does not mention anything about a piece of cake on the bed; the newspapers that did so were quoting or paraphrasing Marshal Blume or Constable Truitt, who both kept pushing the “outraged” claim even after the Wickersham family asked everyone to knock it off. In short, I don’t think there’s much question that this part of the story was planted in order to prove the Chinese cook had to be the killer.

The cook’s room was also inspected, and will be discussed in part two; all that’s crucial to know is that nothing incriminating was found there except for some clothesline like the rope used to tie up Sarah. Elsewhere in the house someone found Jesse’s meticulously-kept journal with the last entry made after Sunday night supper. That and a burned-dry lamp on the table led them to conclude the murders happened between 5-6PM on Monday, four days earlier.

The house was not ransacked and Wickersham still had his watch and pocket change. “This shows that the object of the fiendish criminal was not robbery,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the papers pushing the outraged/cake angle. 19

But at least some times of the year, Jesse kept large amounts of cash around to pay ranch hands. Again the Petaluma Courier seemed to have the last word: “A small satchel, however, in which the rancher was known to sometimes keep money, was found open… No one present was able to state whether there was much or little money in the house before the deed was committed.” The Courier also had an anecdote about Jesse unexpectedly settling a $100 debt with a neighbor – the equivalent of over $3,300 today. Another time he had to defer paying the neighbor because “He had nothing less than a twenty.”

While the Healdsburg doctor did the autopsies, Marshal Blume took a party of the men to search the range for any signs of the cook. Finding nothing, the coroner’s jury heard evidence from the doctor and Elliott Jewell, coming to the conclusion that the Wickershams “came to their death from gunshot wounds, inflicted by unknown hands, ail evidence pointing towards a Chinese cook in the employ of deceased.”

And that was all, except for getting the bodies back to Petaluma for a funeral. It took them until Sunday to reach Healdsburg; the Alta California speculated the bodies were lashed in a wagon which was floated across the flooded creeks. 20

A Santa Rosa paper reported, “In consequence of tbe bad weather and swollen streams great difficulty was experienced in bringing them in. People gathered at every settlement along the roadside to get a sight of the sad procession.” When the bodies finally arrived in Petaluma on the night train, “The crowd that awaited the arrival of the bodies at that depot on Sunday night was a large one, and when the rude coffins were placed upon two express wagons, the citizens forming about escorted the remains to the undertakers.” 21

The funerals were held in Petaluma on Monday, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the mood of the town:

There was a Sunday stillness in the town of Petaluma yesterday. The stores, saloons, and even banks were closed. Conversation was carried on in undertones, but underneath that sorrow lurked a revengeful spirit, which displayed itself by frequent gesture and ill-guarded remark against the race from whom came the murderer that laid low in a foul and bloody death their esteemed town people. There were no Chinese to be seen on the streets. 22

Sarah and Jesse were buried in the Wickersham family plot at Cypress Hill Cemetery in Petaluma.

1 The Saint Paul Globe, January 24, 1886

2  “I think Indians are friendly” Jewell inquest testimony, page 3
Dialogue from Jewell interview in Petaluma on January 25. San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886

3 Chronicle, ibid

4 ibid

5 ibid

6 Some accounts state he rode immediately to Skaggs’ Springs, but I found it doubtful that he would leave his wife alone, given that the murderer could still be in the area. Two people traveling in a buggy would also be slower and help explain why the trip took around six hours. 

7 Chronicle ibid

8 Interview in Petaluma with J. Seawall on January 22. San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1886
op. cit Jewell interview Chronicle, January 26

9 Truitt quoted in the Daily Republican, January 25, 1886

10 Petaluma Argus, January 23, 1886

11 Oakland Tribune, January 22, 1886

12 Sacramento Record-Union, January 23, 1886

13 San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886

14 Truitt interview in the Daily Republican, January 25, 1886

15 Daily Democrat, January 26, 1886

16 Petaluma Courier, January 27, 1886

17 ibid

18 Russian River Flag, January 27 1886 

19 San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1886

20 Daily Alta California, January 24, 1886

21 Daily Democrat, January 26, 1886
San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886

22 Chronicle, ibid

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marktwain1866

THE TIME MARK TWAIN CAME TO PETALUMA

Petaluma was soooo lucky. Mark Twain, that funny guy everyone was buzzing about, made only a few appearances before he left for the East Coast and Europe, probably never to return out west. Reviewers had been giddy with delight over his recent appearance in San Francisco: “From the beginning to the end, the interest was never allowed to flag,” gushed the Chronicle. “Taking it altogether, ‘Mark Twain’s lecture may be pronounced one of the greatest successes of the season.” Other SF newspapers sang with similar praise. Thus on November 26, 1866, you can bet Hinshaw’s Hall was crowded with Petalumans expecting to spend a jolly evening. Spoiler alert: They hated him.

The next edition of the Petaluma Journal and Argus offered a review of his lecture with the headline, “REPREHENSIBLE.” That fellow who called himself Mark Twain was a complete flop (“…as a lecturer he falls below mediocrity”) and the San Francisco papers should be condemned for misleading the public by giving good reviews to such bad entertainers.

Now, wait a minute; today, everyone knows Sam Clemens/Mark Twain was the most celebrated speaker of his time, if not all of American history. Surely that Petaluma critic was as much an idiot as the Hollywood producer who supposedly dissed Fred Astaire’s screen test, “can’t sing, can’t act, balding, can dance a little.”

As it turns out, the Petaluma review was truthful, albeit inartfully written (the full review is transcribed below, apparently for the first time since 1866). Evidence found in contemporary papers show Twain’s appearances in those weeks were often stinkers – and it seems he was aware of that but did not know how to improve. Following one lecture he told a friend he felt like he was a fraud who was taking people in.

But that’s not the story he tells in his memoir and first popular book, Roughing It, or when reminiscing as he did in his remarks about stage fright made after his daughter’s musical recital. In his version, he was nervous about his debut performance in San Francisco, fearful that no tickets would sell and no one would laugh at his jokes. He papered the house to pack it with friends including three “giants in stature, cordial by nature, and stormy-voiced” who were expected to howl with glee and beat their shillelagh on the floor whenever Twain made a funny. Still, he was terrified of failure. From Roughing It:


…before I well knew what I was about, I was in the middle of the stage, staring at a sea of faces, bewildered by the fierce glare of the lights, and quaking in every limb with a terror that seemed like to take my life away. The house was full, aisles and all! The tumult in my heart and brain and legs continued a full minute before I could gain any command over myself. Then I recognized the charity and the friendliness in the faces before me, and little by little my fright melted away, and I began to talk. Within three or four minutes I was comfortable, and even content. My three chief allies, with three auxiliaries, were on hand, in the parquette, all sitting together, all armed with bludgeons, and all ready to make an onslaught upon the feeblest joke that might show its head. And whenever a joke did fall, their bludgeons came down and their faces seemed to split from ear to ear…

“All the papers were kind in the morning,” Twain finished up, referring to those reviews the Petaluma paper later called “reprehensible.” As he didn’t write about his subsequent appearances, Gentle Reader was left with the impression all went smoothly after his debut butterflies. And as far as I can tell Twain biographers all take him at his word, speeding past events of that autumn to arrive without delay at his rise to international fame.

It’s a great shame more attention hasn’t been given to this period, as this was a turning point in his life. “Without means and without employment,” as he wrote in Roughing It, he convinced himself public speaking was his “saving scheme,” despite having absolutely no experience or training at it. And although the reviews after his debut were often poor, his convictions seemingly never faltered that he would now do this for a living. If nothing else, it’s an inspiring story of determination; constructing a Mark Twain from scratch was not easy work.

The topic of Twain’s lectures were the “Sandwich Islands,” AKA the Kingdom of Hawaii, where he had just spent five months as a special correspondent for the Sacramento Daily Union. The Kingdom was a pretty exotic place to Americans in 1866 and the couple of dozen articles he wrote were well received, but travelogue lectures are not where you usually expect an evening of knee-slappin’ humor. Twain destroyed his copy of the speech years later so we don’t know exactly what he said, but from snippets and summaries we know the lecture was mainly a travel description of people, places and things along with his wry observations. Or as the Sacramento Union critic wrote, he “seasoned a large dish of genuine information with spicy anecdote.”

The advertisements he placed in the papers became celebrated in their own right. Shown here is his first from the Sept. 30 Daily Alta California (CLICK or TAP to enlarge) with its funny blurbs. “A SPLENDID ORCHESTRA Is in town but has not been engaged“, read one of them. At other lectures he came up with different items, such as “THE WONDERFUL COW WITH SIX LEGS! Is not attached to this Menagerie“. Most famous was the tag at the end: “Doors open at 7 o’clock. The Trouble to begin at 8 o’clock.” He varied this line, too; another example was, “Doors open at 7; the inspiration will begin to gush at 8.”

Once back in his old Gold Country stomping grounds, he also ran this in the Nevada Transcript and Grass Valley Union:


After the lecture is over, the lecturer will perform the following wonderful feats of SLIGHT OF HAND, if desired to do so: At a given signal. he will go out with any gentleman and take a drink. If desired, he will repeat this unique and interesting feat – repeat it until the audience are satisfied that there is no deception about it. At a moment’s warning he will depart out of town and leave his hotel bill unsettled. He has performed this ludicrous trick many hundreds of times in San Francisco and elsewhere, and it has always elicited the most enthusiastic comments.
At any hour of the night, after ten, the lecturer will go through any house in the city, no matter how dark it may be, and take an inventory of its contents, and not miss as many of the articles as the owner will in the morning. The lecturer declines to specify any more of his miraculous feats at present, for fear of getting the police too much interested in his circus.

The Mark Twain who appeared on stages in those weeks was more or less an imitation of his contemporary and friend who went by the name of Artemus Ward. One of the most popular humorists during the Civil War – Lincoln opened the cabinet meeting about the Emancipation Proclamation by reading aloud a little humor sketch – Ward’s stage persona was a backcountry hick who drawled through rambling stories, clueless there was anything remotely funny about his remarks. Audiences ate it up. It was Ward’s great success that undoubtedly inspired Twain to try his hand at it.

Those early lectures by Twain included a great deal of clowning. He would open by pretending he did not know there was an audience; if there was a piano available the curtain sometimes went up with him yowling and banging away at an old saloon tune, “I Had an Old Horse Whose Name Was Methusalem.” From a good profile of Twain’s years in the West, “Lighting Out for the Territory:”


As can best be reconstructed, he simply sauntered onto the stage from the wings, his hands stuffed into his pockets and a sheaf of papers clutched under his arm. He wandered vaguely around the lectern for a bit, looking for the most comfortable place to stand, and then appeared to notice the audience for the first time, the expression on his face registering an equal mixture of surprise, perplexity, and fear. For a long moment he looked silently at the audience while it looked back at him, waiting.

Once he introduced himself the comic shtick continued as he pretended to be shocked and mystified whenever there was laughter or applause. Describing his debut performance, a journalist in the audience recalled “…the apparently painful effort with which he framed his sentences, and above all, the surprise that spread over his face when the audience roared with delight or rapturously applauded…”

His Petaluma review was certainly the worst. but other reactions were decidedly mixed. Even as the Chronicle called his debut “one of the greatest successes of the season,” the back page of the same edition had a little item about running into Twain on Montgomery street and telling him “the envious and jealous” were saying it wasn’t worth the price of admission. When he appeared in San Jose the Mercury said “the lecture was entirely successful” while the Santa Clara Argus wrote “the lecture disappointed.” For his second San Francisco lecture the Chronicle called his performance unpolished and raw: “Some of ‘Mark’s'” jokes were very much strained, and others were so nearly improper–not to say coarse–that they could not be heartily laughed at by ladies.”

This was not harsh criticism, but that any were negative has to be weighed with understanding he had a “favorite son multiplier.” Samuel Clemens was a fellow newspaperman and drinking buddy of everyone in the City and in the Sierras who reviewed his appearances. They all wanted him to succeed, if for no other reason that he used his box office receipts to buy rounds of drinks after the show.

So great was his popularity that the harsh Petaluma review received its own smackdown from the Grass Valley Union:


Unfortunate Clemens! Why did you blight your lecturing prospects by attempting to pass the ordeal of the corn and spud-producers of the Russian river country? You may do in San Francisco and ‘sich like places,’ but you ought to have known better than to brave the Petaluma lions in their den…what business had you, Mark Twain, up in that part of the country? Telegraph to the St. Louis and Cincinnati Boards of Commerce that you cannot accept their invitations to lecture – that your lecturing star went down in Petaluma.

We have that sublime gob of sneer thanks to Santa Rosa’s newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat, where editor Thomas L. Thompson was still locked in battle with the Petaluma Argus over the Civil War, by then over a year and a half. (In an adjacent article, the Confederacy-mourning Thompson ranted at length about “the Radical tools and dupes of Abolition despotism.”) Thompson was clearly delighted that another editor handed him a cudgel to bash Petaluma and he did so with relish, taunting their critic as not “able to appreciate the entertainment” and comparing him to a dimwitted character in a Shakespearean play.

By the end of 1866 Mark Twain was on a ship headed to the East Coast. Over the next seven years he would deliver the Hawaii lecture some 150 times, by his count, almost always to acclaim. How did he completely turn it around?

For starters, he must have sharpened his focus once he was facing audiences of strangers and not his personal acquaintances, as was the case in California and Nevada. In the second Chronicle review they noted his weeks performing in front of his old pals in the Gold Country had changed his performance and not for the better: “…He was a little too familiar with his audiences. What will be thought very funny by the inhabitants of the desolated wastes on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, won’t do at all in great metropolis like San Francisco.”

He also likely improved the writing; the Hawaii lecture he gave in 1873 probably was very much evolved from the original of 1866. His early reviews remarked at how much information he packed in about the climate, volcanoes, weird food, “board surfing” and the native people who were primitive because they did not act or dress like Victorian-era Americans. That didn’t leave much time for humor beyond making witty asides; were people filling his theater seats for a geography lesson or to have some laughs?

An incident during the Nevada leg of his tour should have given him cause to reflect: While walking the short distance back to Virginia City after an appearance at a mining town, Twain was held up by masked robbers who took his money and expensive gold watch. It soon came out the highwaymen were really his friends playing a prank and everything was returned to him, but Twain was livid and unforgiving. Why did they do it? Some forty years later, one of would-be brigands revealed they hoped it would cause him to stick around Virginia City and give another talk. And hopefully for that lecture, the robbery – which they had made as scary as possible – would be his topic instead of rehashing those damned factoids about Sandwich Islands.

But it appears his biggest improvement was dropping the stage business – the silly gimcrackery of pretending he had no idea what he was doing in front of an audience. He became less targeted on checking off the list of Hawaii’s wonders than sitting back and telling us a story about the place. Here was the emergence of the beloved Mark Twain we all know (well, the Hal Holbrook we all know), the man in the white suit, relaxed in the comfy chair and flicking ashes off his cigar while keeping us spellbound with whatever fool thing that happened to pop to mind. Volcanoes? Jumping frogs? Steamboats and your Missouri childhood? Whatever, Mark, just keep talking. We’ll listen to anything you have to say. You never needed the theatrics.

Unknown illustration, probably from early edition of Roughing It

 

“Mark Twain’s” Consolation

Meeting “Mark” this morning on Montgomery street, the following dialogue ensued:

“Mark” — Well, what do they say about my lecture?

We–Why, the envious and jealous say it was “a bilk” and a “sell.”

“Mark” — All right. It’s a free country. Everybody has a right to his opinion, if he is an ass. Upon the whole, it’s a pretty even thing. They have the consolation of abusing me, and I have the consolation of slapping my pocket hearing their money jingle. They have their opinions, and I have their dollars. I’m satisfied.

– San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, October 3, 1866

SECOND LECTURE BY “MARK TWAIN”-Platt’s Hall has been engaged for to-morrow by “Mark Twain,” tor the delivery of his second lecture on the Sandwich Islands, and in addition he promises “the only true and reliable history of the late revolting highway robbery, perpetrated on the lecturer at the dead of night between the cities of Gold Hill and Virginia.” The tickets for the lecture are for sale at the book stores, “The wisdom will begin to flow at 8.” “Mark” will depart on the steamer of Monday, for a visit to the Atlantic States.

– Daily Alta California, November 15, 1866

…”Mark” was not as happy in this new lecture as he was in his old one. He was not in very good condition, having of course got alkalied while in the savage wilds of Washoe, and at the same time we fear that he had become a little demoralized. He was a little too familiar with his audiences. What will be thought very funny by the inhabitants of the desolated wastes on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, won’t do at all in great metropolis like San Francisco. Some of “Mark’s” jokes were very much strained, and others were so nearly improper–not to say coarse–that they could not be heartily laughed at by ladies. However, “Mark,” of course, sent the audience into fits of laughing again and again; and as a whole, his lecture was thoroughly enjoyed by those present. “Mark’s” travels to the interior, where he has so many friends, have not improved his style. The lecture which he delivered last night might have been polished considerably without wearing down any of the sharp points with which it was ornamented.

– San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, November 17, 1866

“Mark Twain,” the Missionary. styled the “Inimitable.” by the Mercury, favored a large and appreciative audience at San Jose, on Thursday, with an amusing account of what he heard, saw, and “part of which he was,” in the Sandwich lslands. One attraction, he announced, was necessarily omitted. In illustration of Cannibalism, as practiced anciently, he proposed to devour, in presence of the audience, any young and tender cherub if its maternal parent would stand such sacrifice for public edification, but there being no spare infants at hand the illustration was not given. With this exception, the Mercury says the lecture was entirely successful. They want him to do it again.

– Daily Alta California, November 24, 1866

The Argus, concerning ” Mark Twain’s” lecture, says: We have long been an admirer of the infutitable humor of the lecturer, as shown in his numerous letters and sketches that have been so widely published but confess that the lecture disappointed us. We expected to hear the Kanakas “joked blind,” but had no idea of being treated to such an intellectual feast as he served up to his audience. We never heard or read anything half so beautiful as his descriptions when he laid aside the role of the humorist and gave rein to his fancy. To use the expressions of a wrapt listener to the lecture, “he’s lightnin’.”

– Daily Alta California, November 25, 1866

MARK TWAIN.– The Alta of Sunday last says that Mark Twain is to deliver a lecture in this city Friday evening. We hope this is not a mistake.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus, November 22, 1866

REPREHENSIBLE.– The gentleman who enjoys a wide celebrity on this Coast as a spicy writer, over the non de plume of “Mark Twain,” delivered his lecture on the Sandwich Islands, in this city, on Monday evening last. While we accord to him the merit of being a spicy writer, candor compels us to say that as a lecturer he is not a success. We say this through no desire to be captious, but simply because it is literally true. As a newspaper correspondent Mark Twain is a racy and humorous writer, but as a lecturer he falls below mediocrity. In this connection we think it not inappropriate to address ourself to the editorial fraternity on this Coast, and to our San Francisco contemporaries in particular, in relation to the reprehensible practice of disguising the truth in reference to the qualifications and ability of persons who sell their talents for a valuable consideration, and too frequently “sell” those who go to hear them, innocently expecting to be instructed or amused. To remedy these evils we must begin at the fountain head. San Francisco occupies that proud eminence, and what she has of intelligence and real worth we delight to honor. She possesses an array of talent and varied accomplishments of which she may justly be proud; but her journals have apparently yet to learn to discriminate between stars of the first and ninth magnitude. They seem to lack the power of discrimination, and bespatter with printer’s ink all aspirants for public fame, without any seeming regard to their fitness or ability to meet the requirements of the public. Through their fulsome praise the public expectation, in the interior, is worked up to the highest pitch of expectation, and as a consequence nine times out of ten is doomed to disappointment. These frequent dampers upon public expectation has rendered the people so suspicious that lecturers of real merit are frequently mortified by finding themselves facing an audience that would be a discredit to the attractions of a hand organ.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus, November 29, 1866

POKING FUN AT PETALUMA.— The ridiculous comments of the Journal and Argus upon “Mark Twain’s” lecture in Petaluma, which we noticed at the time, have called forth some pretty sharp remarks from various quarters. The Grass Valley Union lets off steam in this manner: “Unfortunate Clemens! Why did you blight your lecturing prospects by attempting to pass the ordeal of the corn and spud-producers of the Russian river country? You may do in San Francisco and “sich like places,” but you ought to have known better than to brave the Petaluma lions in their den. What Mud Springs was to the Californian who crushed a certain young lady’s musical aspirations with a few well directed word-shots, silencing the match-making parent forever, Petaluma is in a lecturing way. Have not the Petalumans had Lisle Lester and other lecturing and reading stars up their way, and what business had you, Mark Twain, up in that part of the country? Telegraph to the St. Louis and Cincinnati Boards of Commerce that you cannot accept their invitations to lecture—-that your lecturing star went down in Petaluma.” There is a mistake here, through which injustice has been done to the people of our neighboring town. They had no fault to find with “Mark Twain.” On the contrary, his humorous and instructive lecture was highly appreciated by them. The editor of the Journal and Argus is the dissatisfied individual on whom Clemens wasted his wit. Not being able to appreciate the entertainment, he at once pronounced “Mark Twain” a failure. Evidently, when doing so, in the opinion of the press of the State, he followed the example of Dogberry of old, and displayed his ears rather prominently.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 22, 1866

 

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1906 EARTHQUAKE: NEW REVELATIONS

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

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

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

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

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


(RIGHT: “Waiting for bodies – Occidental Hotel”  Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

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

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

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

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

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

For the record: There are at least 77 deaths caused by the earthquake and it can be said with high confidence that a minimum count should be 82 (see earthquake FAQ).

*   THE MYSTERIOUS EXPLODING HARDWARE STORE   One of the enduring puzzles of the earthquake is the postcard seen at right (CLICK or TAP to enlarge). The caption states eight people were killed when “powder” (black powder, presumably) exploded at a downtown Santa Rosa hardware store, although nothing at all about this incident was mentioned in the Democrat-Republican. (And isn’t it darn unamerican that we can’t buy dynamite downtown anymore?)

(RIGHT: Postcard with caption, “Wreck of Haven Hardware Co., Santa Rosa, Cal. Where powder exploded killing eight rescurers [sic].” The photo was taken from almost exactly the same location as the wagon seen above, looking southwest towards A street. Image courtesy California Historical Society)

Thanks to the first post-quake edition of the Argus, there is confirmation about the explosion: “In Santa Rosa in Havens’ hardware store powder exploded and lit on the other side of the street, starting a fire which was soon under control” [sic]. No mention of anyone killed, though – at least in that item. This time the Argus gave us a three-fer, but it takes a little sherlocking to dig it out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 19:

JACK FORD HAS A CLOSE CALL

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


Santa Rosa is now under martial law.

The Dead at Morgue

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

April 20:

SEVERAL BODIES FOUND ON THURSDAY

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

SOLDIERS ENFORCE PRICE REGULATIONS

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

COOKING OUTFIT SENT TO SANTA ROSA

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

REMAINS BROUGHT HERE THURSDAY

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

MADE A VERY SPEEDY TRIP

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

SEVEN BODIES FOUND FRIDAY

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


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

MANY ARE STILL IN THE WRECK

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

BLUE JACKETS ARE AT WORK

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

NO SYSTEM IN THE WORK

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

April 21:

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

35 INQUESTS; 34 FUNERALS

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

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

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

THIRTY FIVE DEAD FOUND

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

April 23:

ANOTHER BODY WAS RECOVERED

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


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

SIX BODIES WERE IN THIS CITY

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

MANY WENT TO VIEW WRECK

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

April 24:

THREE BODIES FOUND MONDAY

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


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


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


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


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

ELECTRIC CARS NOW RUN ON FOURTH STREET

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

April 25:

HAULING DEBRIS FROM COUNTY SEAT

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

CONDITIONS AT SANTA ROSA

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

April 26:

NO NECESSITY FOR A FINANCIAL FLURRY

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

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

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

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

SAD DEATH OF SONOMA BOY

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

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

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

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


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

April 27:

SANTA ROSA CONDITIONS

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

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

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


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

April 28:

NEWS FROM SANTA ROSA

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

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

April 30:

ANOTHER DEATH FROM INJURIES

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

May 1:

THE SITUATION AT SANTA ROSA

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

May 2:

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

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

SANTA ROSA FIREMEN DO HARD STUNTS

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

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


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


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

May 4:

WILL MEET IN THEIR OLD ROOM

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

SANTA ROSA OBJECTS TO PARDEE’S ESTIMATE

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

May 5:

BARROWS SENT THE NEWS OUT

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 7:

THE INSURANCE AT SANTA ROSA

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

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


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


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

May 8:

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


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



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



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

May 9:

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

May 10:

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

May 11:

GHOULS WILL BE SEVERELY PUNISHED

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

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

May 12:

CONDITIONS GOOD AT SANTA ROSA

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

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

MINERVA’S HAND AND HER SWORD

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

May 14:

CHARGED WITH THEFT OF DEAD WOMAN’S JEWELS

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

BUILDING MATERIAL FOR SANTA ROSA

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

THE SCHOOL MUST BE RE-CONSTRUCTED

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

May 15:

MILITARY GUARD SHOOTS AT MAN

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

May 19:

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


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

May 23:

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

PASSED AWAY AT SANTA ROSA TUESDAY (May 22)

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

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