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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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:


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

Santa Rosa is now under martial law.

The Dead at Morgue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 20:


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

April 21:

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


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

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

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


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

April 23:


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

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


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


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

April 24:


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

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

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

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

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


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

April 25:


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 26:


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

April 27:


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

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

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

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

April 28:


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

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

April 30:


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

May 1:


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

May 2:

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

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


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

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

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

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

May 4:


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


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

May 5:


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

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

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

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

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

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

May 7:


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

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

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

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

May 8:

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

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

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

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

May 9:

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

May 10:

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

May 11:


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

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

May 12:


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

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


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

May 14:


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


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


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

May 15:


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

May 19:

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

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

May 23:

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


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

Read More


San Francisco and Santa Rosa deserve the spotlight when it comes to the great 1906 earthquake, but Petaluma also has a story to tell – and quite a valuable one, at that.

Amazingly, Petaluma suffered no serious damage; no one was killed or even seriously injured. There were no fires. Walls of a few brick buildings collapsed. The 1908 state Earthquake Investigation Commission report gave the little river town only a short paragraph, noting “the great majority of chimneys fell.”

(RIGHT: Earthquake damage at Main and Washington Streets, Petaluma. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Petaluma escaped Santa Rosa’s fate due to several factors. Much of the town is on solid ground that’s been around since the dinosaurs, while Santa Rosa is mostly on soil that’s just built-up silt from the Laguna’s watershed. Santa Rosa’s great fire damage can be traced to the crucial first few minutes after the earthquake, when Luther Burbank and other witnesses saw downed electric wires sparking in the streets and flames shooting from broken gas jets. In Petaluma the electricity was cut off outside of town almost immediately once the shaking began and their flow of coal gas – carried in a pipeline from Santa Rosa – was apparently likewise disabled, either blocked or lacking any pressure.

We know a great deal about what happened in the little river town during and after the disaster because its excellent paper, The Petaluma Argus, kept publishing daily except Sundays and the day of the quake. The Argus also reported on what was taking place in Marin County as thousands of San Francisco refugees flooded across the Golden Gate on ferries and steamers. And best of all – as far as I’m concerned – the Argus covered what was going on during those weeks in Santa Rosa, providing details which have been otherwise lost. The following article explores exclusively the paper’s trove of new information about the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake.

The earthquake editions of the Petaluma Argus are an historian’s delight. Every paper is filled with scores of little items, concise and unpolished, many no longer than a single sentence or two: “Larkspur appealed for food on Saturday and a big consignment was sent down from here by the Relief Committee. The valley is full of refugees.” Some items are less newsy than quirky, as if the editor wanted to cram in every anecdote of what had just happened: “At the Barry ranch the earthquake splashed water out of the creek four feet.” These editions were obviously assembled with great haste. Spelling and grammatical errors abound, and in the first post-quake paper a prominent graphic ad was printed upside down. If editing in these editions seems lax or amateurish, it’s probably because the Argus’ editor was away – J. Emmett Olmsted had been enjoying a press junket tour of Mexico City with other editors in the California Press Association, including Santa Rosa Republican editor Allen B. Lemmon. (You can bet there was a collective panic when they realized they were missing out on the story of a lifetime; the initial rumors in Mexico were that 300,000 had been killed and a tsunami had engulfed Northern California.)

The Argus papers chronicled acts heroic in Petaluma, starting with the rush to aid firefighters in Santa Rosa. Over the following days the farming community mobilized to collect and boil countless eggs for San Francisco, as well as sending milk, butter, and meat to the desperate survivors in the city and outlying refugee camps. The town coped with waves of refugees that swelled Petaluma’s population nearly threefold. But it’s the Argus’ daily observations that make for the most captivating reading.

The quake struck near dawn on Wednesday, April 18, and the Argus from the following day described Petaluma’s terrors during the first 36 hours after the catastrophe. Telephone and telegraph lines were down, preventing Petalumans from knowing the extent of the disaster – we read in other Bay Area papers published on the 18th that it was widely rumored at first that the entire West Coast was flattened. From a railroad worker they learned quickly that Santa Rosa needed urgent help, and a train from there soon brought the first refugees, mainly traveling salesmen from the demolished hotels and rooming houses wearing “nondescript attire,” which probably meant whatever they could beg or borrow. “They are all dazed by their awful experience,” reported the Argus.

Worse, the morning train from Sausalito brought news that San Francisco was probably doomed. (In fact, the headline of the Oakland Tribune that day actually read, “SAN FRANCISCO DOOMED.”)  Ominously, the Argus told readers “rumor says that crowds of San Francisco are gathering on the Marin shores.” Petaluma had very close social and economic ties to the city, judging by the great many items appearing in the Argus over the following weeks, updating readers that so-and-so was found to be alive or was now a refugee living with Petaluma friends or relatives. Crowds mobbed the train depot for each arrival; the police roped off the platform and stood guard to maintain order. A couple of days later the Argus described the scene: “As the scores of refugees left the cars the past few days, nearly all were grabbed by somebody and hugged and there were pathetic scenes on all sides. Women fainted on receipt of bad news, others wept with joy. Many became hysterical. Hundreds of private conveyances meet every train.”

Between worries about loved ones in San Francisco and fear of aftershocks, some walked the streets all that first night, and few slept in their beds: “Many local people were afraid to go to bed on Wednesday night and the parks were full of people who camped out all night.”

The first newspapers arrived the next morning, to great excitement. “The few papers received from San Francisco sold like hot cakes at fabulous prices. One was publicly read on Main street in the presence of an immense crowd.” There were no signs of smoke coming from the south, which probably gave Petalumans hope the worst was over. “At noon however the smoke began to appear over the hills in huge volumes and from the sudden rising of white clouds of smoke it could be seen that dynamiting was being resorted to. The wind from that direction was warm and unpleasant.”

Refugees began arriving en force that evening; a train with 21 cars, requiring two engines, brought 500 people to town, “principally former Petalumans and people who have relatives or friends here and who knew where they were going.” Meanwhile, the local relief committee was working to prepare the pavilion at Kenilworth Park (think Sonoma-Marin fairgrounds) for the homeless they expected to soon arrive.

There were also apparently fears of anarchy in Marin county. An official from there arrived in Petaluma and bought all the guns and ammunition he could find. The Argus reported that San Rafael and all of the southern part of the county was under martial law. (That may not be true; the paper also reported the same about Santa Rosa, where it was never formally declared.) “Thousands of refugees from San Francisco are arriving from San Francisco and are overrunning the country,” the Argus gasped, warning the town that it may find itself dealing with the hordes as well. “No doubt, the army will march northward and Petaluma should be prepared.”

The next day, the Marin county sheriff told Petaluma there were ten thousand homeless in San Rafael in urgent need of food. The Poehlmann Tanning Company collected all the donated eggs and boiled them in their huge vats. A large supply of food was also sent to Larkspur.

Despite this aid, Marin pushed the panic button: “San Rafael can no longer care for her homeless charges and a special train at 3 o’clock on Friday P. M. brought several hundred to this city. They were met by a committee and escorted to Kenilworth Park where they will be made comfortable in the big pavilion and are being supplied with water.” By Saturday – the third day after the quake – the Argus noted, “The population of Petaluma is today nearly 10,000.” That was two-and-a-half times larger than its pre-disaster size of 3,900.

Petaluma handled this refugee crisis with remarkable aplomb. The Kenilworth Park pavilion served only as a way station; by Sunday, no one was staying there. “The farmers are contributing supplies liberally and are offering accommodations for homeless,” the Argus noted. “Citizens are putting up tents in their yards.”

If all that wasn’t enough for Petaluma to deal with, they suddenly realized that weekend that repairs were being made all over town and “scores of chimneys are being constructed by people who know nothing of the business.” That was no trivial problem: All of Petaluma’s fire department gear was still in Santa Rosa, along with its hometown National Guard Company C. This left the town with nothing more than a volunteer bucket brigade if there were a conflagration. “Twenty special policemen have been sworn in as precautions against fires and are patrolling the city at night,” the Argus reported, adding “There is great danger of fire and the insurance companies will pay no fire losses when occasioned by defective chimneys due to earthquakes.”

Let’s skip ahead to April 25, a week since the earthquake: Telephone and telegraph service has been restored and the Argus tells us that life is getting back to normal, although “The relief committee is still working hard and in addition to feeding the people here, is sending food out to other cities.” Marin still had about 12,000 refugees, but matters settled down after civic leaders got their act together and established refugee camps. The Argus had even dabbled with voyeuristic disaster tourism by offering a few “wandering in the city of ashes” reports about San Francisco conditions. Nope, not much going on – except for all the Sicilians camped out at Kenilworth Park.

The Sicilians were fishermen (and their families?) from North Beach, and there was a whiff of racism in the Argus coverage. Readers learned a couple of days later that “chicken thieves are operating over at Kenilworth Park and vicinity” and there was griping amongst the group when the Relief Committee demanded work from some of the “big husky able-bodied men” getting free room and board. “They were becoming surly and dissatisfied and it was deemed wise to let them know that the local people are not to be trifled with,” the Argus said. The Sicilians were gone by the end of the month.

(RIGHT: Northwestern Pacific Coast Railroad no. 14 tipped over by earthquake at Point Reyes, April 18, 1906. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The Sicilian episode concludes the 1906 Petaluma earthquake story, more or less. There’s more that you can read in the transcriptions below, but it was almost entirely news that happened elsewhere. On May 10 the Argus asked, “Isn’t it about time for the newspapers to begin to print something outside of the calamitous catastrophe?” And yeah, so it was. But it’s now about time there’s wider acknowledgement of what Petaluma generously did for its neighbors when times were darkest.

Selections from the Argus between April 19 and May 18 are transcribed below. Once again, the Argus reporting about Santa Rosa will be covered in the following article.

April 19:


Petaluma offers its prayers of thankfulness and gratitude. Although there were narrow escapes no lives were lost. Most of the buildings wrecked were ancient affairs which should have been condemned years ago. The property loss is small compared with other cities.

Several of the local physicians have gone to San Francisco to assist there.


On Thursday morning the smoke from the San Francisco fires was not noticeable from the city. At noon however the smoke began to appear over the hills in huge volumes and from the sudden rising of white clouds of smoke it could be seen that dynamiting was being resorted to. The wind from that direction was warm and unpleasant.


San Rafael and all of southern Marin county is now under martial law. Thousands of refugees from San Francisco are arriving from San Francisco and are overrunning the country. As a means of self-protection, it was decided to place the county under martial law. A Marin county official arrived here on Thursday after firearms and bought up all he could get, together with ammunition therefor. No doubt, the army will march northward and Petaluma should be prepared.


There is good news for many Petalumans. Wayne Day, whose death was reported at Santa Rosa on Wednesday is alive. He was taken from the ruins injured but alive and was taken to the county hospital with a number of other sufferers. Reports from Santa Rosa on Thursday were to the effect that he will probably recover. Mr. and Mrs. Russ, who went up Wednesday, are still at Santa Rosa.


A number of the Santa Rosa survivors arrived here on Wednesday afternoon and were tenderly cared for. They were principally traveling men and they wore nondescript attire. They are all dazed by their awful experience.


Mrs. H. H. Huntington of the Relief Committee returned on Thursday from Santa Rosa. She says that night gowns and beef tea are needed. The tea was bought by the committee and sent up. Night gowns are badly needed and should be left with the committee at the City Hall.


Many local people were afraid to go to bed on Wednesday night and the parks were full of people who camped out all night. Others walked the streets. Scores of people slept on the steps and porches of their homes. The brick buildings were untenanted for the night, and the people occupying rooms in the brick lodging houses and hotels, sought refuge with friends in the residence quarter.


The gasoline steamer Suisun City was nearly wrecked by the earthquake near Black Point. A member of the crew states that the boat was literally picked up and thrown back into the water. The crew thought the vessel would be shaken to pieces.


The few papers received from San Francisco sold like hot cakes at fabulous prices. One was publicly read on Main street in the presence of an immense crowd.


Fred Plank and Ed Husler went to Tomales early Wednesday and arrived there soon after the earthquake. They bring the following news which is authentic:

Mrs. P Cauzza’s store and residence a complete wreck and two children killed. Miss Meta aged about 10 and Peter aged 9. Andrew caught under the timbers and injured so he is paralyzed…

…Tomales seemed to be in the track of the temblor as it twisted the track of the railroad so that there will have to be a new road bed made…The ground is cracked open for two miles in the county road beginning in the center of town and running north.

There is not a chimney to be seen from Two Rock west.

Coroner Frank L. Blackburn was summoned to Tomales Thursday to prepare for burial the bodies of two girls name Cauzza who were killed by the earthquake.


The work of repair was commenced on Thursday. Brick masons are in big demand for hundreds of chimneys are down. The work of securing damaged structures is underway.

April 20:


Fully 1000 Chinamen from San Francisco have arrived at the fishing camps at Point Pedro and others are flocking to other fishing camps around the bay. They are quiet and orderly and are dazed at the destruction of Chinatown.


The steamer Gold arrived here Thursday night with many refugees and on her arrival here waited only long enough for local ladies to make up bundles of sandwiches and boil many dozens of eggs. She took on water and then left on her errand of mercy. The Sonoma had gone out a few hours before with water and food.


San Rafael can no longer care for her homeless charges and a special train at 3 o’clock on Friday P. M. brought several hundred to this city. They were met by a committee and escorted to Kenilworth Park where they will be made comfortable in the big pavilion and are being supplied with water. The local committees worked like Trojans to prepare for them…

…Thursday night fully 500 homeless people arrived here but they were principally former Petalumans and people who have relatives or friends here and who knew where they were going. All were provided for. The 5:30 train on Thursday night consist [sic] of 21 cars and 2 engines.


A locomotive and five cars on the siding near Point Reyes station were completely overturned by the schock. [sic] Between Inverness and Olema the ground has opened, the fissures being two feet wide. It is impossible to drive that way. The big trestle above Tomales is gone.


Wayne Day’s body was found beneath the ruins of the Palm Garden Saloon on Friday afternoon. The news was received by a telephone message to W. Russ from Frank Day. Mr. Mrs. Russ left at one for Santa Rosa.

During the absence of power on Wednesday the electric road used a steam engine to haul its cars.


The Western Union Telegraph office is for the present located at the California Northwestern Railroad depot. The lines are up as far as Tiburon.


The Sacramento Bee calle up the Argus on Friday as soon as the lines were in working order. The Bee had heard that Petaluma was in a bad way. The Argus gave the Bee all the information desired.


Linemen of the telephone company arrived from Napa in an auto on Friday and went south. They are putting the lines in shape. San Rafael and Oakland could be reached on Thursday.

Many of the San Francisco refugees were unable to secure beds on Thursday night and had to walk the streets.

April 21:


Twenty special policemen have been sworn in as precautions against fires and are patrolling the city at night. There is great danger of fire and the insurance companies will pay no fire losses when occasioned by defective chimneys due to earthquakes. Scores of chimneys are being constructed by people who know nothing of the business, and there will be great danger for a long time to come.

The following important suggestions and warnings to residents of Petaluma are by the board of trustees…


A telephone message from Capt. Dickson at Santa Rosa to Fire Chief M. Flohr on Saturday afternoon says that the boys of Company C have reeled the city’s fire hose and the two carts will be brought down on the afternoon train.


The population of Petaluma is today nearly 10,000. Over 99 per cent of refugees are former Petalumans who have relatives and friends here. All knew just where they were going and all were received with open arms. As the scores of refugees left the cars the past few days, nearly all were grabbed by somebody and hugged and there were pathetic scenes on all sides. Women fainted on receipt of bad news, others wept with joy. Many became hysterical. Hundreds of private conveyances meet every train. The relief committee is composed of heroes and heroines and they are devoting all their time and energy to the noble work. The Salvation Army is a big help and the M. A. S. boys are working in regular detail. The Odd Fellows’ Relief Committee is hard at work and the city trustees and city officers are busy.

Not one person is now at Kenilworth Park as all have thus far been provided with homes.

The farmers are contributing supplies liberally and are offering accommodations for homeless. Citizens are putting up tents in their yards.

A big force of special police officers has been appointed for fire purposes as they are not needed otherwise. The order is perfect and not one arrest has been made. The steamers brought in but few people Friday night and at 9 o’clock the streets were quiet.

At this time a special meeting of the city trustees is being held and fire department and other city officials are present. Buildings are being condemned and stringest [sic] arrangements are being made for the town’s safety. There is plenty of food here and nobody need suffer except from inconvenience. There is no need of alarm or unrest. Things are looking brighter.

During this terrible time of trouble the place of heads of families is at home. By going to San Francisco you are only adding to the confusion which is already hard to cope with and you can do no good there. You may be called upon at any moment to extend assistance in your own homes to the distressed and destitute and you are requested to keep all available space ready for prompt use, if called upon.


The telephone and telegraph offices were besieged with people on Saturday seeking to send messages to relative and friends. Sad scenes were enacted at both offices.


Sheriff Taylor of Marin County telephoned Friday morning to this place and stated that 10,000 homeless people are now in that city and asked for aid. Mr. Poehlmann of the Poehlmann Tanning Co. has taken all the eggs which egg dealers have donated and is busy boiling the eggs on the large furnace at the Tannery for the purpose of sending them to the homeless and hungry.

San Rafael too has asked for aid. Many local ladies are at work under the auspices of the General Relief Committee and a large amount of food was sent to Marin county on Friday afternoon.


Larkspur appealed for food on Saturday and a big consignment was sent down from here by the Relief Committee. The valley is full of refugees.


Since 1 p.m. on Friday, nobody is allowed to land in San Francisco so there is no use for anybody to try it. The soldiers at the wharves prevent persons without passes to land. Don’t try to go to San Francisco, it is useless.

April 23:


In this city everything is quiet and peaceful. Of the hundreds of refugees now here, all except 100 are with relatives and friends and are so scattered that few people would believe that our present population is about 10,000. Ranchers are now taking whole families to keep until matters are adjusted.

The relief committee is still working hard and in addition to feeding the people here, is sending food out to other cities. The work is being carried on in the same systematic manner without fuss and with great credit to the committee and the city. Supplies are still coming in…Business is going back to its normal condition and the people are regaining confidence. Petalumans can feel with satisfaction that in the great emergency they have done nobly.


Company C came home on Saturday evening but was soon after its arrival again ordered under arms and returned to Santa Rosa on the 7 o’clock train. At first the Company was ordered to Oakland but later it was decided to keep it in Santa Rosa. A new camp has been pitched on the private grounds of the residence of Mayor Overton on Fifth street. A. Matsen is the company cook, and the boys are faring well.


On Monday workmen were repairing the American Hotel, electric light station and National bank. Others were tearing down the front of the Lynch building and the cornice of the Dan Brown estate building.


Less than a score of refugees except those having relatives and friends here, arrived from San Francisco Monday. All are well. The health authorities inspect all arrivals. The exodus from San Francisco has ceased.


Telegraphic communication between Petaluma and San Francisco has been restored. On Sunday two wires were connected with a temporary office at the metropolis and many messages were gotten through. The greatest difficulty is in finding the persons for whom there are messages.

Local people expecting telegraph messages from friends or relatives are requested to call for same at the depot.

The Examiner was issued on Friday, being printed at Oaklad [sic]. The few papers received here went quickly at high prices.

All of the eggs and butter which was shipped Saturday to Oakland has been returned.

Scores of former residents who are now here were house hunting on Sunday and Monday.


It is reported that the dead in San Francisco are being placed in barges which are being towed far outside the heads and sunk in the ocean.


The city’s fire hose which has been at Santa Rosa were brought back Saturday night. The hose carts were placed on a flat car. Captain Dickson of Company C reeled and shipped the hose. Four lengths were burned.


The pipe line which conveys the gas from Santa Rosa to Petaluma, was on Monday found to be uninjured. This assures a plentiful supply of gas on Tuesday and Wednesday, and is grand news to all.


The farmers of this vicinity are doing nobly in contributing to the food supply. Hundreds of dozens of eggs, milk galore, bread and other supplies are being contributed. One farmer brought in three whole carcases of veal. Another brought five boxes of fresh butter wit a request to sell same if it could not be used and turn the money into the fund.

April 24:

Letters are being received here from San Francisco without envelopes or stamps.

The street leading from the foot of Western avenue to the river is closed owing to the unsafe condition of the walls of the Wickersham building.

April 25:


A few refugees arrived here by steamer on Tuesday night. Up to the time of writing, however, none arrived here on Wednesday. All is quiet at Kenilworth Park where one hundred Sicilians are encamped. They are being well fed and well cared for.

A number of priests arrived here on the morning train Wednesday.

April 26:


Will Ortman on Thursday received a letter from his brother, George Ortman, who is a deputy sheriff of Marin county. He says there are 12,000 refugees in Marin county and they are doing well. He states that the sheriff’s office thanks the Petaluma people for the supplies sent.

The local police are still on duty at all trains but it is no longer necessary to rope in the crowds.

April 27:


Chicken thieves are operating over at Kenilworth Park and vicinity and many fowls are reported to have been stolen during the past few nights. A determined effort will be made to apprehend and punish the offenders.

Three wrecked coaches of the California Northwestern railroad passed through Petaluma Wednesday night on the way from Santa Rosa to the Tiburon shops.

Another party of Sicilians arrived from San Francisco Thursday and are at the refugee camp.


On Friday Gil P. Hall, the life and head of the local General Relief Committee, went to the refugee camp with a big express wagon and took eleven big husky able-bodied men who were there, out to the rock crusher and put them to work. The men, it is said, have considerable property with them. They were becoming surly and dissatisfied and it was deemed wise to let them know that the local people are not to be trifled with. The men saw it was of no use to protest so went to work at the Hillside rock crusher.


At McNear’s Point Pedro property no damage was done. The two large brick kiln chimneys are uninjured . The McNear family are feeding about three hundred of the Chinese refugees. The fishermen are catching fish and sending it free to Oakland and San Francisco.


Mr. Stempel, who returned on Thursday from the coast, says that we have no idea of the intensity of the earthquake out toward the coast and says that the shock in Petaluma must have been nothing as compared to the shock out on the coast. He states that the scene along the route of the tremblor is far beyond the powers of description and the typography of the country is considerably changed. Scores of frame buildings were demolished and not a stone foundation, no matter how small, or a chimney is standing. The railroad track and bed was picked up bodily and thrown over into a field. The big trestle at Fallon is gone and there is demolition on every side. Near Walker’s bridge the hills have moved together and the bridge is several feet too long. Driving inland, the effects of the earthquake gradually appears less.

April 28:


Workmen are removing a section of the north wall of the First M. E. church which was damaged by the shock. Repairs will be made at once.

Santa Rosa is employing the prisoners in the county jail in clearing away the ruins in Santa Rosa.


An Italian, who is presumed to have come up from San Francisco since the great disaster, hung himself on the Dry Creek bridge near Healdsburg Wednesday morning. He was about thirtty years of age and was unknown to any of his countrymen there. It is supposed that his mind was unhinged by the earthquake shock.

Slight shocks of earthquake are so numerous that they no longer alarm the people.

April 30:


A young lady belonging to a prominent local family, has been very ill owing to the shock and to the death of near friends and has temporarily been bereft of her reason. She is being cared for by nurses and attendants, but it is feared that she must be sent to a sanitarium. The case is a very sad one.

A large party of the Sicilian refugees, who have been at Kenilworth Park, returned on Monday to San Francisco.


The relief work in San Rafael has been excellently organized and the San Franciscans who sought refuge in that town have naught but words of the highest praise…The Coleman tract, a sightly, sanitary place, contains the tents for the housing of the homeless, all under the care of Dr. Crosby. It is equipped with telephones, electric lights and other conveniences and is a model relief camp…A.W. Foster and family have also been tireless in the work of relief. He has erected tents on his grounds and has one son in a bus meeting trains and making the rounds of the camps to take those who wish to go to the Foster ranch…there is no suffering and there will be none in San Rafael.


The refugee camp at Kenilworth Park where so many homeless people from San Francisco were cared for, is no more. The last of the refugees returned to San Francisco on Monday morning. Several of the families rented cottages and will be permanent residents of this city. The inmates of the big camp were principally Sicilian fisher folk from Telegraph Hill and North Beach. Their boats were saved and they have made arrangements to return to their daily avocation….

May 1:


It is greatly to be regretted that great exaggerations and misstatements as to the magnitude of the destruction wrought by the earthquake in California have been made by some parties. The truth is bad enough, and to have the damage so magnified is worse than the real damages themselves. The devastation at San Francisco and Santa Rosa were enormous but that such misrepresentations as have gone forth, even from those who know, or ought to have known better, is tremendously out of all possible reason or justification. These false reports have gone forth to the world, and the misunderstanding of the real condition has done and will do any amount on injury to the people and business of the places mentioned in them. We cannot account for the false statements made. They are unjustifiable from all considerations….

…It has been reported that the whole state of California was one vast field of destruction from one end to the other. That San Francisco and her neighboring cities were utterly wiped off the map and that nothing was left by which the sites of them could be recognized…instead of the whole city being destroyed, not more than one-third of it was seriously damaged. And there are Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley, virtually adjoining, were left comparatively uninjured besides many other villages closely surrounding were virtually unharmed. San Rafael, a few miles to the north, has no damages to report, likewise Petaluma. Santa Rosa was comparatively worse than San Francisco and we have said the two places were the only ones that have been very seriously injured…

…It is now ascertained that in the great city less than 300 lives were lost and at Santa Rosa there were less than 80.

We were shocked to receive from a publishing firm in Chicago a book of 200 pages, in which were all sorts of misstatements and exaggerations made, doubtless with the sole purpose of making money out of the great calamity of California…if those at a distance could see the demonstrations already being made in the two cities that has been so terribly shocked and in which so much destruction has been experienced, to rebuild and restore themselves and even the work already accomplished in the revival of business, their lack of confidence would be speedily restored in favor of California, that has been shattered by the stores that have been told them by unprincipled parties.

A party of refugees passed through town Tuesday morning with a pack train and attracted much attention.

May 2:


People of Petaluma, your work for humanity has not ended and there is yet much to be done and it must be done now. Down in the refugee camps in San Francisco, women and children are in dire want, and it is up to the good people of Petaluma to keep up the splendid work begun by them.

It is up to the people to aid the local Relief Committee by giving what they can. Clothing is the greatest need. Clothing for women and children. Stockings, underwear of all kinds, towels, handkerchiefs–but especially underclothing and stockings. Men’s clothing is not desired as the army is providing for the men. Don’t send rags. Send something that can be utilized–something that will do somebody some good…

…Let everybody help. The farmers are urged to contribute. If they have no clothing, let them send eggs, milk, fowls or any products…this is a time to try the souls of all. It is a time such as we will never pass through again. It is to be hoped that we will not. But now that the situation has arisen, it must be met and we who live at the very threshold of the stricken city must do our share in meeting it and in mitigating the sufferings of the army of homeless women and children, who huddled in their cheerless camp, gaze out upon the darkened fire sear graveyard of the city that was their home…


To an Argus reporter on Tuesday Mayor Overton expressed his great appreciation of the splendid manner in which the citizens of Petaluma aided the stricken city. All over Santa Rosa the Argus man heard words of praise for Petaluma, and it made him feel good.

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.

Several automobiles, northbound, passed through town Wednesday morning.

A curious freak was the rise in Russian River and the outbreak of many new springs throughout the mountains.

May 3:


Chimney inspector Morris H. Fredericks is making excellent headway in his work and is inspecting from 80 to 85 chimneys per day. In nearly all cases he finds the people thankful and willing to assist, but in one or two cases he ran against “bad actors.” But it takes considerable to ruffle the ex-chief…


Ed Ensler an old time resident of Valley Ford, was found dead on the floor of his cabin on Tuesday night. Deputy Coroner Tom Wilson drove out on Wednesday and held an inquest. Death was due to natural causes. The old man had been ailing for some time and his death was hastened by the earthquake shock. He was a county pensioner and had no relatives as far as is known. He was a native of Holland aged 75 years and was unmarried. He lived for a long time on the Patterson place.

The remains were brought to Petaluma by Mr. Wilson and on Thursday morning were laid to rest at Cypress Hill Cemetery. He was buried at the expense of the county.


Since the San Francisco disaster Petaluma has become quite a journalistic center. At the Argus offices, besides the printing of the local paper, the composition for the Marin Journal and part of the Santa Rosa papers, the Argus is doing the printing for the Brunt office of San Francisco, and is printing the Labor Clarion, the Trestle Board L’Italia and La Svizzera, all of San Francisco.

May 4:


It has been reported here that the instantaneous shutting off of the current at the local plant prevented the destruction of this city by fire on the morning of the earthquake.

Manager Weber of the Petaluma Gas and Electric Co. states that this is incorrect. The shock of the earthquake swung and broke the main power line and blew out fuses in a hundred different places. The main line broke in two places here and on in the yard east of the power house and the San Rafael main line broke just east of the D street bridge. There could be no fires from electric wires at Santa Rosa because before the buildings went down the power was off. An Argus reporter, who was in a down town building, saw the flash when the power stopped and it was during the early part of the shock.

Mr. Weber believes that most of the fires started from stocks of matches in the grocery stores although some were no doubt kindled by lamps and by stoves.

Up at Colgate where the “juice” is generated, no shock was felt. Not until the load went off the machines did the electricians know that anything had happened and even then they did not know what was the matter.

May 7:


An Argus reporter visited Sebastopol on Sunday and was astonished to see the magnitude of the damage done at that place. Many business buildings are in ruins. Others are standing with one or two walls gone. The big power house is cracked and the storage batteries of the railway are ruined…The people who viewed the ruins on Sunday had no idea that Sebastopol had suffered to such an extent…

May 9:


Santa Rosa, May 8–There was a serious collision on the Petaluma & Santa Rosa electric railway yesterday afternoon between a work train clearing away debris in this city and a train which was emerging from a siding at Sebastopol. Two cars were wrecked and thrown into a ditch, while one end of a motor passenger car was demolished. A number of laborers from this city were going to Sebastopol to unload the debris, but they jumped from the cars and escaped. Several were badly bruised. The train crews have been laid off pending an investigation.

May 10:

Isn’t it about time for the newspapers to begin to print something outside of the calamitous catastrophe? But then there is so much of it that it requires a spirit of negation to get outside of it.

May 11:


Several days ago the Argus stated that in a few days it would have pleasant surprise for the people of Petaluma and today it is able to keep its promise by announcing that the Protestant Orphan Asylum will temporarily move its entire establishment from San Francisco to this city and will be maintained here for from nine months to one year. The children and attendants will arrive a week from Monday and the huge pavilion at Kenilworth Park will be the home of the little ones and their guardians numbering all told at present, 210 people…

May 15:


A number of refugees who found shelter at San Rafael at the time of the San Francisco fire are still receiving aid from the relief committee. At first there were 200 sheltered at the relief camp, but the number rapidly decreased until there are now about ninety persons, mostly old men, women and children. The city trustees have adopted an order giving refugees a chance to work on the streets for $1 a day and board. It is estimated that nearly 4000 refugees have found shelter among friends in that city.


William Newcomb, a resident of Healdsburg, where he was a fruit grower of the Dry Creek Valley, was adjudged insane Saturday by Judge Emmet Seawell and ordered committed to the Ukiah asylum. Newcomb had been failing before the earthquake, but the tremblor completed the wreck of his mind.

May 17:


The work of caring for the refugees sheltered in Marin county was Wednesday transferred to Captain West and Lieutenant Swift, ordered there by General Greeley. A troop of cavalry accompanies the officers. The soldiers will be encamped at San Rafael. Colonel E. B. Martinelli of the local Red Cross will assist in the relief work.

There are two thousand refugees throughout the county. Last Sunday Colonel and his associates went to Ross Valley where there are many destitute refugees. It was discovered that over seven hundred persons not entitled to public aid were drawing rations. Some of them were local property owners and possessed of good credit at the stores. The committee stopped their rations.

May 18:


Coroner Frank L. Blackburn of Petaluma presented a bill of fifty dollars to the Board of Supervisor for holding all the inquests over the bodies of the victims of the earthquake, and then presented this amount to the relief fund for those who were afflicted and lost their belongings in the trying times. Had he made the usual charge allowed in each case, the coroner’s bill would have amounted to many hundreds of dollars, but Coroner Blackburn did not desire to take advantage of the misfortune by making money for himself. In his action he has shown a commendable public spirit.-Republican.

Coroner Blackburn could have put in a bill for $750 under the law under the law and it would have been a just and correct bill and would have been passed by the supervisors without a word. But he chose the course which will go down in history in Sonoma County.

During the awful days following the disaster the Coroner was in the thick of the rescue work and neither ate nor slept. For several nights he remained on duty at Santa Rosa without removing his clothing. During that time he spent much money out of his private purse and was a relief committee all by himself. He assumed personal charge of removing and disposal of the victims of the disaster and aided in the search of the ruins. He was everywhere and nobody worked harder than did the popular and painstaking official. Not only is Petaluma proud of his record and generous action, , but the whole county is singing his praises and it does a Petaluman good to hear it.

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