Quiz time: What’s more absurd than a lawsuit over the ownership of a dead dog?

You should read the earlier articles to relish the profound craziness of this feud over Queen, “a valuable varmint dog.” The case began in 1905 (1904?) and rumbled through the courts even after the pooch was killed in the Great Earthquake. Judge Seawell finally ruled in 1907 on who owned Queen, ordering Mr. Peterson to pay Mr. Frese $25.00 (heaven knows what all the legal bills were by this time). But even though the question of ownership of a deceased dog was settled, the courtroom combat began again in 1908 over a new crucial legal issue: Who owned her puppies? “There is a whole lot of principle as well as dogs mixed up in this case,” a wag remarked to the Press Democrat court reporter.

“The Dog Suit” Still on the Tapis and “The Pup Suit” Is Yet to Figure in Legal Annals

The end is not yet. The dead “Queen” is to be resurrected and her good points extolled once more in legal oratory in Judge Seawell’s department on the Superior Court. Not only that but the recovery of her progeny is to figure in another battle in the hall of justice. The latter consists of two well developed pups.

“Queen,” it will be remembered, has been dead nearly two years now. About the time of the earthquake this now celebrated canine expired from shock, leaving two little puppies to shift for themselves. “Queen” — the dead one–was alive when the litigation started, in which J. H. Frese figures as plaintiff and U. G. Peterson is defendant.

It was for the recovery of the dog that the first suit was brought. It started in the Justice Court some three years ago and from there went on appeal to the Superior Court, where it has been on trial and in many other phases since. Last Monday the suit of Frese vs. Peterson came up on a motion for a change of judgment and was set down for hearing next Monday by Judge Seawell.

Attorney Thomas J. Butts, who is counsel for the plaintiff, stated yesterday that he is going to bring another suit against the defendant for the recovery of the offspring of the deceased “Queen.” They are said to be very valuable dogs. “There is a whole lot of principle as well as dogs mixed up in this case,” someone ventured yesterday. It might be added that it costs something, too.

– Press Democrat, February 8, 1908

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Anyone inclined to wax nostalgic about turn-of-the-century Sonoma County, take note: Life back then could be rough, and the suicide rate was high. As elsewhere in the Bay Area, the number of suicides in Sonoma County dipped immediately following the earthquake of 1906, but come next year, the papers were again reporting that grandpa was reaching for the carbolic acid or braiding up a noose. Nor was there necessarily a higher regard for civility in the early 20th century; witness Santa Rosa’s ongoing problem with people trying to kill dogs by throwing poisoned meat into their neighbor’s yard.

Our ancestors doted on Fido and Fluffy as much as we do today, maybe more so; nearly the longest-running lawsuit here in the 1900s centered upon Queen, “a valuable varmint dog,” and after she was killed in the earthquake, “the dog suit” became “the pup suit” as the fight shifted to ownership of her last litter. Yet incidents of dog poisoning were so common in that era that the Press Democrat usually reported then in 3-4 line page fillers. The articles transcribed below are unique only in the amount of detail provided.

(Right: Santa Rosa woman posing with cat on steps. Detail of photograph from the Larry Lapeere collection)

To be rigorously fair, it should be mentioned that there was no dog catcher at the time and the town was overrun with stray dogs, a situation that probably became worse after the earthquake. Also, there was a bubonic plague scare in early 1908, and residents were urged to clean up their yards and put out rat poison. Yet still, these articles clearly show that in each case, someone’s intent was to specifically kill pets.

Dog Poisoner Drops Poisoned Meat in Yards
While accomplishing His Mean Work in Killing Canines the Guilty One May Become Responsible for Sacrifice of Human Life

Some miscreant, bent on poisoning dogs on Henley street and vicinity has been throwing poisoned sausage into the yards of houses, particularly on Henley street, and has succeeded in poisoning a number of dogs. Pieces of sausage have been picked up in which strychnine had been placed.

The man intent on dealing death to canines, reprehensible enough as that is, should remember that his act may cause the life of some innocent babe playing in the yards of the houses who might chance to pick up the poisoned morsel and unsuspectingly put it in its mouth. The police and citizens are trying to discover the guilty person, and if caught he will be punished severely.

– Press Democrat, December 11, 1906


A fine collie, “Dollie Gray,” owned by Mrs. Paul Coulter, was poisoned last night. The canine was only absent from the Coulter residence on Slater street a few minutes before it found the poison. The death of the dog, who was a general favorite with people in the vicinity, was the occasion of no little excitement, and if the person throwing out the poison had been caught in the act, well–there would have been something doing, judging from the opinions expressed.

It might be a hint to people, who in the bright rodent-killing days are using poison, to be careful to put “rough on rats” where it cannot be taken by dogs or possibly little children.

Mrs. Coulter recently refused a hundred dollars for “Dolly Gray,” but would not part with her pet at any price.

– Press Democrat, March 14, 1908

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Following the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, the Superior Court decided a pair of cases that bear mentioning, if only for their Believe-it-or-Not qualities.

Nearly the longest running case at the time involved a lawsuit over the ownership of Queen, “a valuable varmint dog.” I didn’t make note when it started, but the dispute went back at least a year or more, and involved a man named Frese suing to get the dog back from a man named Peterson. The question of ownership also entangled a Mr. Faught and a Mr. Carter and “the Hembree boys” in a knot that I won’t even attempt to unravel.

Well, sir, comes the 1906 earthquake and Queen is dead – yet the lawsuit still went on. Over three months later, Judge Seawell rules that Frese was indeed owner of the dead dog, which was worth all of 25 bucks. The lawyer’s bill was presumably (much, much,) more. Peterson hopefully consoled himself all those valuable varmints killed by Queen.

The other case involved a husband and wife who were both killed in the collapse of Santa Rosa’s Occidental Hotel. The wife’s will left her estate to her only child; the husband’s will instructed his estate to be split between their daughter and his child from an earlier marriage. Apparently it was settled law at the time that if husband and wife died at the exact same instant it was presumed that the man must have lived a fraction of a second longer because of his sheer manliness – although it was argued unsuccessfully in an earlier case that a woman would probably live longer because any female can endure more pain. Presto: A tired gender cliché becomes legal precedent.

Grewsome Incident of the Late Disaster Recalled by Suit Said to Be Pending

Among the local victims of the great disaster of last April were Mr. and Mrs. William Peacock, who were killed in the Occidental hotel. Peacock was a San Francisco contractor and built both the Carnegie library and the California Northwestern depot in this city. The couple left considerable property, and a suit to determine how it shall be divided is said to be among the possibilities of the near future. If such a suit is brought, it will involve and hinge upon the point of which died first. Both victims were dead when taken out, so the determination of the matter promises to be a delicate one.

The question involved in the case is the same one that was brought out in the contest over the property left by the late Charles L. Fair, a few years ago. Fair and his wife were instantly killed in an automobile accident in France, and a suit followed. Both sides imported witnesses from across the water, but the matter was finally compromised. The California law contemplates that in the absence of any direct evidence to the contrary, the man would in such cases live the longer, being by nature the stronger of the two. Opponents of this theory claim, however, that actual experience has demonstrated the fact that woman can stand more pain than man. During the past few days a San Francisco attorney has been here in an effort to learn something of the condition of the Peacock bodies when taken from the ruins, although which side he represented is not known.

– Press Democrat, April 21, 1907

Contest Over Will of Late Contractor William Peacock in Decided by Superior Judge Coffey

Sometime ago the Press Democrat mentioned the interesting point involved in the contest over the estate of the late Contractor William Peacock, who with his wife was killed in the wreck of the Occidental hotel on April 18th a year ago, as to whether Peacock or his wife died first. It was then said that in the absence of anything in the way of evidence to the contrary, the California law presumed that the woman died first. The matter came up for hearing in Judge Coffey’s department of the Superior Court in San Francisco on Wednesday, and the Court decided that Mrs. Peacock died first.

In speaking of the proceedings in Judge Coffey’s court, a San Francisco paper says:

The matter came up on the application of Mrs. Ada Baptiste, daughter of William and Mathilde Peacock for the admission of her mother’s will to probate. The Peacocks were killed in the ruins of the Occidental hotel at Santa Rosa during the earthquake on April 18, 1906. The estate is valued at about $60,000.

Peacock and his wife made separate wills. That of Mrs. Peacock favored her daughter, Mrs. Baptiste, while that of Peacock divided the estate between Mrs. Baptiste and Mrs. Ida Miller, his daughter by his first wife, and, therefore, the half-sister of Mrs. Baptiste. If Peacock died before his wife, ans Mrs. Baptiste contended, the wife’s will would become effective; but if she died first his would prevail. Mrs. Miller contested her stepmother’s will on the ground that Mrs. Peacock died before Peacock did.

Testimony was taken before Judge Coffey to support the claim of Mrs. Baptiste, but the case proved a somewhat knotty one. A subsidiary issue was raised by the appearance of the Grand Lodge of United Workmen, in which order Peacock held a life insurance policy for $1000. The Grand Lodge wishes to know to whom to pay the money.

Not the least interesting feature of the case was the fact that Peacock’s two wives were sisters. Mrs. Miller’s stepmother, therefore, was also her aunt; Mrs. Baptiste and Mrs. Miller are at once cousins and half sisters, and the general mutual relations of the various parties are somewhat complex.

The hearing was in progress nearly all day, but ended with a decision that Mrs. Peacock died before her husband, and the husband’s will, therefore, prevailed. By this will the estate is left, share and share alike, to Mrs. Baptiste and Mrs. Miller.

– Press Democrat, May 10, 1907

“Queen,” a valuable varmint dog, over which a suit was pending in the superior court, died at the time of the recent earthquake. Grant Peterson claimed the dog, and to maintain possession of the animal during the pendancy of the action, had filed a bond. J. H. Frese, who also claimed the dog, had given the first bond, which was covered by Mr. Peterson. Both gentlemen were attached to the canine friend, whose mastership had never been legally determined.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 8, 1906

At the request of Attorney Leppo an order was made in the Superior Court Monday dropping the suit of Frese vs. Peterson. The suit was to recover possession of a dog or its value at the time of the earthquake the dog died. Last week Mr. Leppo “suggested” the death of the dog to the court and he stated Monday that he would file a supplemental pleading setting forth in due form the canine’s demise.

– Press Democrat, June 12, 1906
Judgement Given for Twenty-Five Dollars in a Bitterly Contested Suit Over a Canine Since Deceased

In the famous suit involving the possession of a dog, since deceased, in which J. H. Frese was plaintiff, and U. G. Peterson was defendant, which has occasioned considerable interest, Superior Court Judge Emmet Seawell handed down an opinion Thursday, giving judgement for the plaintiff in the sum of twenty-five dollars. The opinion is as follows:

“This is an action in claim and delivery for the possession of a hound bitch named ‘Queen’ or for her value in case delivery cannot be had. ‘Queen’ had since died, hence a legal delivery cannot be made. The evidence preponderates in support of plaintiff’s claim that William Carter, through whom defendant claims, was never the [illegible] owner of ‘Queen.’ He was merely given conditional possession. Upon an alleged breach of said condition plaintiff took ‘Queen’ into his possession and held it for a number of years, subsequently she was taken on a hunting trip by the younger Frese and did not return home with him, but was found in defendant’s possession thereafter. He, claiming ownership this action was brought. Much of the evidence apparently contradictory can be explained on the theory of mistake or misuse or misapprehension of terms. This is especially true of the conversation between the Hembree boys and the younger Frese. It would not have been remarkably strange for young Frese to have used the word ‘trade’ under the conditions of the exchange. On the other hand it would not have been strange for the Hembree boys to have gotten the idea that there was a trade from the use of the word ‘exchange,’ or even from an imperfect or incomplete narrative of the transaction. I am satisfied that the whole difficulty between the parties grows out of a lack of the use of apt terms. Mr. Carter probably regarded the loan or conditional exchange as in effect a ‘trade,’ and gave little though to a breach which he felt confident would never happen. So, too, the younger Frese may have, in a general way, called the transaction a ‘trade.’ Such a misunderstanding as the evidence shows here to exist might be expected under the conditions of the exchange. It does not at all strike the Court that the conflicting statements are not reconcilable with honesty. Many of the conflicting statements can be readily reconciled on the theory that there was a misuse of terms. The transaction took place a long while ago, and it is not to expect that one who had no real interest in the controversy would recollect the details of a conversation that took place a long time ago as clearly as one who had. Considering all the evidence and circumstances of the case, together with the logic of human conduct the preponderance is with plaintiff that he did not part with the title in the dog. The value of ‘Queen’ at the time she was taken into defendant’s possession is not easy to fix. Mr. A. Faught, once her owner, placed the value of a dog of her blood and age at anywhere from five to fifty dollars. She was probably of the value of twenty-five dollars. Let judgement go for plaintiff for the sum of twenty-five dollars. It is so ordered.” Emmet Seawell, Judge of the Superior Court.

– Press Democrat, July 27, 1907

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