It was like a celebrity sighting; a new generation of Russians were establishing a “colony” on the Sonoma county coast and newspapers from Sonoma and Mendocino counties rushed to report on our exotic new neighbors. Even before they arrived at the end of August, 1912, both Santa Rosa papers announced they were coming and a correspondent from the Mendocino Beacon was apparently on hand when twenty families disembarked from the little steamer that plied the coastline.

Part of the interest was the historical angle; 70 years had passed since the Russian American Company pulled up stakes at Fort Ross. The newcomers had no connection with the old site – they were coming to Sonoma because there happened to be a large ranch for sale twenty miles further north, at the current location of The Sea Ranch. Also interesting was that they were here to establish a religious commune, stirring memories of all the utopian communities that once were familiar around central Sonoma county, such as Fountaingrove, Preston, Altruria and the rest.

The Press Democrat scored an interview with the colony’s leader but unfortunately they tapped the paper’s coastal stringer “Old Jackson,” a fellow in Annapolis who contributed irregular columns and mistakenly considered himself interesting. As a result, PD readers mainly learned the Russians cheered when O.J. told them he had 14 children and were “joyful” for his advice about farming.

Sadly, that appears to be the only time Emilian Fedorovich Noshkin was interviewed by the press, and there was much misinformation about the group he could have clarified. Their settlement was called the “First Russian Baptist Colony” and the Mendocino Beacon reported “California will be the future home of practically the entire membership of the Russian Baptist Church…the denomination [was] driven out of Siberia by the attitude of the Russian government.” Modern articles about them repeat those same claims, but there’s no proof they came to America to escape religious persecution – indeed, the Russian Baptist Church was thriving at the time.*

Nor were they Siberian refugees or “Russian peasants” (as the Santa Rosa Republican called them). Noshkin was a wealthy merchant (usually described as a “flour manufacturer”) from the Pacific coast city of Vladivostok and the family of thirteen made the costly voyage to America as first class passengers. Several of the articles from the Santa Rosa papers mention the colony was receiving funding from Russia, the Republican specifically stating they had a million dollar line of credit – perhaps the church regarded them as missionaries to the substantial Russian population in San Francisco.

(Article and photo of the Noshkin family from the April 25, 1912 San Francisco Examiner. On another ship en route to Yokohama, Mrs. Noshkin gave birth to her 11th child on the island of Miyajima, one of the most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan and where no birth or death is allowed.)

There were nearly a hundred colonists there in the late summer and fall of 1912 (presumably that’s counting children as well, but the newspapers are not clear) and they worked with fierce ambition. Before two months had passed there was a home for each family and shortly after that a church was dedicated. They had a dairy herd of 200 cows and two steam engine tractors to plow great fields on their 5,000 acres.

Tragedy first struck while the tractors were being driven down from Point Arena. The old bridge across Schooner Gulch collapsed while one of the 8-ton engines was crossing, killing the colony member walking alongside. They buried him on a bluff and surrounded his grave with a ring of white stones now gone, but The Sea Ranch has placed a marker near the location.

Otherwise, the little colony flourished. Nine hundred acres were already under the plow by the start of February, 1913 and more families were expected to soon arrive. One of Noshkin’s daughters had married a man named John Pack in San Francisco and gave the settlement their first born. An old tavern on the property was made into a schoolhouse; Russian-speaking Elizabeth Briggs and her husband came out from Santa Rosa to teach 21 kids by day and give English lessons to the adults in the evenings. The school was named “Sacel” and they called their colony, “First Farm.”

(Some details here, including quotes from the Mendocino Beacon, are drawn from a well-researched essay, “First Farm” by Harry Lindstrom/The Sea Ranch Archives Committee. Normally I would have provided a direct link but this essay is not among the public offerings on The Sea Ranch web page. It can be easily found via a Google search, however.)

But as much as they all loved their dream farm and planned to draw in hundreds of their Russian Baptist countrymen and build a seaport town and spawn other colonies, they didn’t actually own the land. That was remedied when the Noshkins signed papers to buy the 5,000 acres for $250,755 (equivalent to about $6.3 million today). It would soon be their undoing.

The property had a complicated history which the Lindstrom essay details in full. Before statehood it was the German Rancho and had a grist mill. Later it was a cattle ranch and a lumber mill. When the Noshkins set foot in America in April 1912 it was called the Del Mar Rancho and owned by real estate speculator Walter P. Frick who had bought the land just eight days earlier. How much he paid is unknown but the assessed value was $42,400.

What happened next is complicated, but critical to understand (again, see Lindstrom for more). Together with an investor named Burgess, Frick created the Del Mar Development Company and transferred ownership of the land to that company. Both were also directors of Western Mortgage and Guaranty, which immediately gave the company a mortgage. All that happened a few days before the newspapers announced the Russians would be moving onto the property, so presumably they showed the Russian’s lease at a grossly inflated rent (and maybe intent to purchase) as collateral in lieu of an appraisal. The Noshkins would later make payments to the Del Mar Development Company but apparently did not actually assume that mortgage from the lender, again sidestepping a proper appraisal.

Eight months after the Noshkins signed the loan documents, both Santa Rosa papers revealed on August 11, 1913 the colony was in deep trouble. A farm equipment manufacturer was suing them for defaulting on payments.

And that wasn’t all: It was revealed the fine print of the agreement required all crops were to be turned over to the Del Mar Development Company as part of the mortgage payments. The Noshkins had signed the colony up to be sharecroppers.

And that wasn’t all: Del Mar Development Company was foreclosing.

And that wasn’t all: Frick and Burgess were personally suing Noshkin because they held the quarter-million dollar note which Noshkin had signed with the Del Mar Development Company. And since the men also owned the business, they were suing the Noshkins both as a company as well as individuals.

(NOTE: I’ve rewritten the above section a couple of times after close readings of the articles transcribed below, which may even not be completely accurate. If you have further information, please leave a comment.)

What went so wrong so fast? Their huge potato crop failed, which was apparently their main cash crop. More critically, the Santa Rosa papers reported their support lifeline had been severed. “All was rosy while the money was available,” the Press Democrat remarked, “but when it stopped coming from Russia, and when there was no means of raising more here to meet payments on mortgages and claims for machinery, then the Glooms appeared.”

The biggest problem, however, was that the unethical dealings of Frick and Burgess were despicable – the only question is whether the pair crossed the line of actually committing fraud under 1913 laws, when there were few federal protections against their kind of deceit.

It seems the Del Mar Development Company was just a shell company created to pump up the price once Frick and Burgess knew they had an interested party, and that they foreclosed immediately upon the first sign of financial problems suggests that was their intent all along, once the Russians had improved the property. Yet incredibly, they claimed in their suit to be victims because they would never again encounter suckers as gullible as the Russians: “It cannot be sold for an amount a hundred thousand dollars less than the purchase price.”

Emil Noshkin knew little or no English when he and his wife signed the contract (he spoke none during the “Old Jackson” interview) and she could not even write her name. It is extremely doubtful either understood what they were signing or were aware someone could have visited the Sonoma county assessor’s office to discover they were agreeing to buy the land for about six times more than its value.

It was clear, however, that the Russians did not understand what was happening. When the court receiver arrived at the colony he had to explain the process of law to a Noshkin son who spoke English. Local workers hired by the receiver showed up to bale the hundreds of tons of hay still in the fields, stirring one of the colonists to lash out and threaten to kill the Noshkin son. But everyone understood well enough they were being kicked out; when the Sheriff appeared a month later to serve the foreclosure papers it was a ghost village, with nary a soul to be found.

The Noshkins started anew near Elmira (due east of Vacaville) which had a Russian farming community, including relatives of Mary Noshkin. Again they were screwed over; they had an option to buy 1,660 acres but the seller refused to honor the contract after the down payment was made. This time Emil sued, in May 1914. The outcome is unknown, but they stayed in Solano county at least through 1920.

Despite the improvements made by the Russians the colony village and farmland remained unsold, so Frick ended up owning all nine miles of coastland for 25 years. He rarely visited and grazed cattle and sheep. He seemed to care as little about his children as he did for his property; during summers he and his wife dumped their three kids there, along with a governess and a Chinese cook, to play among the abandoned homes while Frick and his Missus raced back to the Bay Area. After he died it was sold in 1941 for $140,000 – only about twice what he paid for it in 1912, adjusted for inflation. Ironically, it was a courthouse sale because Frick had stopped paying his debts and owed back taxes on the property.

* In 1905 Tsar Nicholas II declared freedom of religion – previously, Russians had to be a member of the Orthodox church or they were denied even basic rights, such as inheriting and owning property. The Russian Baptists flourished probably more than any other faith; by the time Noshkin and the others left the country the church had over 100,000 members and was enjoying explosive growth, building churches, opening theological schools and sponsoring missionaries. 

Hundreds of Russian Peasants Settle in County

The west coast of Sonoma county is to again become the property of Russians, and while the readers of this paper are reading about it, a colony of Russians are landing at Stewart’s Point preparatory to taking possession of the land mentioned. The large Stengel ranch, otherwise known as the Bender Mill and Lumber Company tract, has been purchased for the First Russian Baptist Colony and consists of 5000 acres of land.

One hundred Russians peasants who arrived in San Francisco several months ago are the forerunners of those to whom the broad and fertile acres have been parceled off. These one hundred peasants sailed from San Francisco Wednesday for their new homes, taking with them $25,000 worth of portable houses. Each of the parcels of land will be extensively tilled by a family and will make fine farms. Two hundred other families are to follow soon from their country of persecution and settle in their new Russia in Sonoma county.

The colony has raised $1,000,000 to finance their plans. Of this amount $150,000 was paid for the property in this county. Some of the money has been used for the purpose of purchasing farming machinery and there is still much left in the common treasury. The land was bought for them by E. Noshkin, the president of the colony. He holds a full power of attorney for each member of the colony. The profits of the farming of the land will go into a common treasury.

Thus it will be seen the pioneer lands of Russia in America, the historic spots surrounding the old Russian fort of Fort Ross, is again to be populated by the people of that country.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 29, 1912


“Old Jackson” Interviews Head of the New Colony

Annapolis, Sept. 15– The Russian Colony passed through their first day of gloom and sorrow on Saturday, September 7. They were bringing from Point Arena their big traction engines with which they expect to do their plowing, the weight of one engine being about eight tons. Arriving at Schooner Gulch, three miles out from Point Arena, the lead engine with the water truck crashed down the bridge and turned over in the stream. The engineer, with the fireman, jumped, but Nicholas Pogsikoff, who was walking between the engine and the water truck, was instantly killed. The poor fellow seemed very anxious to be near at hand if anything went wrong, although he had been cautioned to keep back. Pogsikoff was a good man and had been in America six years…

…Yesterday the writer had a long interview with E. Noskin, the man presiding over the Colony. He is a very pleasant gentleman, but he cannot speak but one word of English. Mrs. Noskin is a bright, little woman and is the mother of six sons and five daughters. Mr. and Mrs. Noskin evidently thought they had the largest family in America, as they turned to the fine little man of a boy, my interpreter, and anxiously asked how many children the writer had, and when informed that we had not stopped at fourteen, they raised their hands high to Heaven in great joy and said “Hallelujah!” From this on it was a love feast, and when we told them that we believed all that they did in a religious way, even baptism by Immersion, their hearts were glad.

We gave their president an honest, sincere statement in answer to questions what would grow on their land and they were joyful. These people have started their store. Now they are going to build a church, and be ready to welcome those to follow, for inside of three years there will be one thousand families on the ground. We have long since declared that this piece of land is capable of sustaining ten thousand people, and these Russians will soon show you how…

– Press Democrat, September 18, 1912



Nine hundred of the five thousand acres owned by the Russian Baptist colony at Del Mar are already under cultivation, and the colony is in a flourishing condition, according to Mr. and Mrs. L. Briggs, teachers in the colony. There are nineteen children in attendance at the school, the quarters for which were provided by remodeling an old saloon.

Mr. Briggs stated that at present there were about twenty-two families in the colony. Several more families arrived in San Francisco recently on the steamer Mongolia from Honolulu, and will make their home at the colony. More families are coming from San Francisco, and this will mean more acres to be put under cultivation.

– Press Democrat, February 6, 1913


Lena Pack Claims Much Attention on Account of her Birth Near Fort Ross

Much interest has been occasioned in the Russian Colony, which located last year on a big place near Del Mar in northern Sonoma county, by the arrival of the first Russian baby to be born in the new home established by the Russians. The first baby is a little girl, daughter of John and Mary Pack, and she has been named Lena. Her birthday anniversaries will be occasions of much significance hereafter, in view of her advent at such an auspicious time.

She was born near where the Russians landed over a century ago at old Fort Ross. A century later they have come again to pursue the peaceful vocation of tillers of the soil. There are several hundred of them in the colony that has been established.

– Press Democrat, July 25, 1913


Financial Difficulties; Suit Started Monday

Financial difficulties have overtaken the famous Russian Colony at Del Mar. Suit against the colony, called the First Russian Baptist Colony, was filed Monday in the Superior Court by Attorney W. F. Cowan on behalf of the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company. E. Noshkin, head of the colony is named as principal defendant.

The suit is for $3,645 and interest at six per cent for two years. It is sought to foreclose mortgages for that amount which the company holds on machinery sold the colony by the company and which has not been paid for.

It is understood that the colony will be sued also for the land which it purchased on the installment plan. The colony was organized on a commistic [sic] basis, and for a time flourished finely. The leaders have depended on money from Russia which it is said has failed to materialize.

– Press Democrat, August 11, 1913


Receiver Appointed by Judge Seawell Tuesday

By order of Superior Judge Emmet Seawell Tuesday morning, the First Russian Baptist Colony was thrown into the hands of a receiver. The court appointed Charles G. Goold as receiver under bonds of $5000, which were furnished by the Aetna Company.

The appointment of the receiver came as the result of a petition filed by the Del Mar Improvement Company a real estate company which sold the colony the land which it has been farming. The petition sets out that under the terms of the agreement between the company and the colony all crops were to be turned over to the company to be sold and the price received applied as payment on the mortgage on the land.

This the petition says the colony has refused to do. There are about 800 tons of hay, of which but about 75 tons have been baled, according to the complaint. The value of the hay is given at $10,000 and the petition says it is imperative that it be baled at once and gotten under shelter.

The petition also alleges that the potato crop of the colony is a failure and not worth harvesting. Also that the balers refuse to work for the colony and are hard to get in that section of the county.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 11, 1913



Foreboding of impending trouble at the First Russian Baptist Colony located at Del Mar in northern Sonoma county, following the appointment of a receiver asked for in suits commenced in the Superior Court several days ago, was not misplaced, it seems. When it comes to dispossessing the colonists, a happening which also inevitable at the present time, there may be stirring times. These “shoe string” arrangements are not what they are cracked up to be, and are trouble breeders.

But to return to the difficulties that have arisen at the present time. Sheriff Jack Smith and Deputy Sheriff Charles Meyers hurried over to Cazadero on Saturday morning in the Sheriff’s automobile to take from the custody of a north county deputy a Russian who had made threats to kill a son of E. C. Noshkin, the head of the colony. The Russian was brought to jail here in the afternoon, and will await trial. Young Noshkin speaks English fluently and when Deputy Sheriff Donald McIntosh went there a few days ago to install, as per court order, Charles Goold as a receiver, the officer explained to Noshkin what the process of law meant. The other colonists, however, who do not understand the English tongue, were apprehensive of what was happening, and when strange hay balers came onto the big farm to finish the work where the Russians had left off, their apprehensions, it is said, increased. The Russian placed under arrest, was presumably a leader.

When the colonists first arrived at their new haven there were about seventy-five families of them. Deputy Sheriff McIntosh learned upon his recent visit that many of the families had grown disgusted and moved off the place. It is too bad that such a “shoe string” investment should have been undertaken. All was rosy while the money was available, but when it stopped coming from Russia, and when there was no means of raising more here to meet payments on mortgages and claims for machinery, then the Glooms appeared. A mortgage of $250,000 is a big thing to handle, particularly when it is handled by people unskilled without methods.

The Russian brought here Saturday was given a short term in jail on a charge of disturbing the peace.

– Press Democrat, August 17, 1913



The affairs of E. Noshkin and his wife, who are the heads of the First Russian Baptist Colony of Del Mar were muddled more than ever with the filing of a new suit against them in connection with the failure of the colony. Some time ago the colony was thrown into the hands of a receiver on petition by the Del Mar Land and Development Company. Later another suit was filed by an implement concern to attach the land and the farming tools on it.

Now comes the third suit, which is filed by Attorney T. J. Geary on behalf of W. P. Frick and R. N. Bargess in which the Del Mar Land Company is also made a defendant. The plaintiffs set up that they were given a deed of trust by the company after the Noshkins had signed a promissory note for $250,765, payments upon which have been defaulted. They allege that the property has been badly mismanaged and that it cannot be sold for an amount a hundred thousand dollars less than the purchase price.

They ask that C. G. Goold, who is now acting as receiver under another suit be discharged and reappointed under the present suit.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 10, 1913



Without waiting for process of law to remove them, disgusted with their lot and their failure to establish a colony on the shores of historic Sonoma, where their predecessors landed a century ago, the Russians have folded their tents and stolen away.

When Sheriff Jack Smith, who took a seventy-mile automobile ride into the Stewart Point section to serve the papers in the foreclosure suits, commenced in court here, arrived on the scene, he ascertained that E. Noshkin, the president of the First Russian Baptist Colony, had departed and there was not a Russian in sight. They had all gone away. Consequently the Sheriff had to return with the papers and make affidavit that he had been unable to find Noshkin.

The suits were brought to foreclose a mortgage for $250,000 and take back the ranch. The owners of the ranch are having a hard time in disposing of it and never will be able to do so, it is said, at the enormous figure it was taken over by the Russians.

– Press Democrat, September 18, 1913


Gottabena Schneider Gets Her Legal Freedom From Her Husband, Gottfried Schneider

Married in Odessa, Russia, and divorced in the Superior Court of Sonoma county. Distances and conditions somewhat remote. Such were the facts brought to light in the trial of Mrs. Gottabena Schneider against her husband Gottfried Schneider, in Judge Denny’s department Saturday.

The plaintiff and defendant intermarried in Odessa over twenty-nine years ago. He deserted her over sixteen years ago, and on this ground the divorce was granted. Five children were born of the union, three of whom are grown.

– Press Democrat, November 9, 1913



In the office of County Superintendent of Schools Miss Florence M. Barnes there is a little souvenir which is much prized by the popular superintendent. It is an odd shaped little candlestick and it was sent as a gift to her by some of the little Russian children of the Russian colony established at Del Mar some time since which has disappeared. Miss Barnes was instrumental in establishing a school for the Russian children, and so the “kiddies” felt thankful and planned to hand her the candlestick in person when she first visited the school. But before Miss Barnes could include the school in an itinerary of the coast district the colony had been broken up. Mrs. Briggs, who was the teacher of the school, was instructed to present the candlestick to Miss Barnes, which she did on Saturday.

– Press Democrat, November 9, 1913


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Right after Christmas, 1905, the Norton family of Santa Rosa sold their home, said their goodbyes, and headed east with their three children to meet the Lord in the upper Midwest. But the Nortons apparently hadn’t gotten the memo: The 1906 Dies Irae had been called off, and now the prophecy was an indefinite promise that Jesus would be coming back Real Soon Now. Before 1916, definitely.

The Nortons were bound for the House of David, a religious commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan that was founded just two years earlier by Benjamin Purnell, a charismatic Kentucky preacher who claimed that he and his wife were jointly the seventh and last “Messenger” who would presage the second coming of Christ. In 1902, Purnell prophesied that the millennium would come four years from then — later upped to 1916 or when all the signs would be in place, whichever came first — and that his “elect” (144,000 men and 144,000 women) would, at that instant, become immortals in the flesh. His followers were always seeking portents that those good End Times were really nigh, and they celebrated on hearing news of the 1906 earthquake. One wonders how the Nortons must have felt about the boast that a church leader had “called down” the quake, which also meant death for so many of their former neighbors in Santa Rosa.

The House of David never came close to the tipping point of that many converts; at most, there were around a thousand members in Benton Harbor (there were 500 living there at the time of the California quake, according to a newspaper account). But despite the smaller than expected numbers, the enterprise thrived, becoming almost entirely self-sufficient with a dairy, fruit and vegetable farms, a state-of-the-art sawmill, a jam and jelly factory, and much more. The operation was also profitable, thanks to all that free labor provided by converts (as well as the requirement that new acolytes, such as the family from Santa Rosa, turn over all earthly possessions), and the House of David would come to sprawl over 100,000 acres of prime land in southwest Michigan.

Articles on the “Flying Rollers,” as they were dubbed by newspapers of the day (it’s an obscure Old Testament reference unrelated to the “Holy Roller” nickname for Pentecostals), loved to mention that men were forbidden to shave or cut their hair and sometimes offered drawings, helpfully educating readers how a person of European descent might look like with long hair. But except for those who chanced to cross paths with Purnell’s small band of missionaries, few outsiders had actual contact with members of the faith. That all changed, starting in the 1920s.

After WWI, Americans were most likely to read about the House of David in their sports pages, as the church fielded a semi-pro baseball team that barnstormed around the country. Although players were an unusual sight with their often waist-length hair braided into a tight ponytail, it was a serious team, good enough to even win exhibition games against major league teams. They also wowed fans between innings with a fast-paced version of catch they called the “Pepper Game” — think of the Harlem Globetrotters with a baseball (short film clips here).

If you didn’t follow sports in the 1920s, perhaps you danced to the music of one of the House of David touring bands (although the musicians weren’t allowed to dance themselves). Both male and female bands hopped around the country, often playing large halls. The ten-piece jazz group, “House of David Syncopep Serenaders” even appeared at Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club.

But if you were anywhere near the upper Midwest, you probably thought of the House of David as a destination amusement park that attracted 200,000 visitors a year during the mid-1920s. The all-free entertainment included a vaudeville stage, bandstands for the House of David musicians, a 3,500 seat baseball field for the House of David non-touring teams, bowling alleys (they invented an automatic bowling pin setter) a miniature railway system with 11 rideable trains, and souvenir stands where artisan treasures and trinkets in jewelry, ceramics, leather or wood could be purchased and often customized with your name. And of course, there was an auditorium welcoming visitors in for religious lectures.

Give the Purnells their due; in only fifteen years or so, they transformed a fringe religious community that newspapers had pigeonholed as a “queer cult” into an entertainment empire worth a fortune. Their apocalyptic dogma was no longer mentioned in the press, and as far as I can tell, no newspaper mentioned that embarrassing detail about Jesus’ failure to show in 1916. Not that their religious past was entirely forgotten: As Purnell began collecting animals for his amusement park zoo, some papers printed rumors that the colony was building a modern Noah’s Ark. Ummm…..could they know something we don’t?

Legal troubles began as early as 1907, when the state of Michigan found that the House of David was less a religious association than a business, and forced it to change legal status. There were vague accusations against Purnell of “immorality” (read: statutory rape) from 1909 onwards, and by 1916, former members were charging in court that he was having sex with teenage girls, afterwards assigning them to marry randomly selected men in the colony. Of course, intimacy with their new husbands was forbidden because celibacy was a central tenet in Purnell’s gospel.

Similar suits followed, and Purnell went into hiding for four years. It later came out that he never left the compound during that time, but was an invalid under the care of a small cadre of trusted aides. Even most of his followers apparently thought he was away; it would be bad if the true believers saw the Seventh Messenger — a man they believed immortal — wasting away. Benjamin Purnell was fatally ill with a combination of TB, diabetes, and heart disease.

A 3-month trial in 1927 ensued, and the judge’s comprehensive 191-page decision (fully reprinted in the Benton Harbor newspaper and generally summarized in a period survey on religious cults) revealed that the House of David had many skeleton closets, and might have been more accurately called the Stalag of David. Children were poorly educated (Purnell’s own son could not read or write); members were not allowed to leave the grounds without passes from the office; all outgoing mail was read and censored; the women who managed housing, called “sweepers,” were expected to eavesdrop and inform on fellow members; detailed records were kept of the required monthly personal confessions; “scorpions” who dared to leave the cult were forced to sign blanket affidavits asserting there was no wrongdoing.

Most damning, however, was discovery that members were given “perjury books” instructing them how to testify regarding questions asked about “Benjamin and the girls.”

As it came out at the trial, a select group of girls age 12 and older always lived in rooms next to Purnell, and he socialized exclusively with them. Thirteen testified that he had coerced them into sexual intercourse via religious arguments, such as he was really “testing their faith” or suggesting they would become immortal as well. Judge Fead wrote in his judgement: “The general trend of the girls toward Benjamin’s quarters was too pronounced and regular to be entirely accidental….This is not true of all the girls but there was a general trend which brought a large number of them to Benjamin’s residence. It was not at all so with the boys…The conclusion is that Benjamin, from the founding of the colony, has had immoral relations with a large number of girls and women of the colony, and that such relations have been imposed on them by the force of Benjamin’s position and power as spiritual and temporal leader.”

The court decreed that the commune was to placed into receivership and Purnell banned from the premises, members allowed to visit him only under “proper protective conditions.” Purnell died eleven days later.

Your obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote: In 1960, a sensationalized account of Purnell’s sexcapades appeared in a dimestore novel, “King of the Harem Heaven,” which was quickly pulled from the shelves after the colony sued the publisher for libel. But in 1972, Purnell’s great grandson was convicted of murder, despite a defense psychiatrist testifying that the defendant had read that book over and over as a youth, coming to identify with his ancestor as a “powerful, smart, and somewhat magical man,” the boy not realizing that the author was portraying Purnell as a psychopath.

Are Preparing to Leave for Michigan Where They Will Meet Their Lord

There will be an exodus from this city Wednesday of parties who are going to meet the Lord. There are several Santa Rosans in the party and they are starting for Benton Harbor, Michigan, where they claim the Lord will appear shortly after the New Year, and where they hope to welcome the Heavenly Visitor. They are now disposing of their property and will hasten to the eastern city to extend a welcome to the Coming King.

The pilgrimage from this city will be headed by Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Norton, and they are very enthusiastic over the trip that they soon will take. The advent of the Savior has become their chief topic of conversation, and they are kept busy answering the various questions that are propounded to them by those who are curious about the purpose of their proposed trip east. It has been revealed to them that the Lord will reveal himself to a company of people composed of 144,000 of those who have been faithful, and that they will be the ones who are permitted to remain on the earth and inherit the same with all other good things that have been prepared for the truly good.

These Mr. Norton says, are the members of the house and Lineage of David who have been dispersed over the earth because of sin and now the time has arrived when they shall be gathered as the chosen ones, and those who do not avail themselves of this opportunity will be doomed to everlasting punishment. Mr. and Mrs. Norton expect to be joined on the trip by large companies from many cities of the state, including Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other points. The trip will be made with considerable anticipation, as would naturally follow from those who are anticipating the final coming of the Lord to gather in those who have gone to meet him, and who are looking for his coming.

Santa Rosa people will doubtless regret the loss of Mr. and Mrs. Norton from the community, but will rejoice that they are going to be privileged to meet their Lord, and hope that they may be found in readiness when the Master comes to reward his servants “whether it be noon or night.”

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 26, 1905

Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Norton Have Gone to Benton Harbor, Mich., Expecting to See Savior

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Norton departed on the afternoon train over the Southern Pacific en route to Benton Harbor, Michigan. They are going to meet the Lord as they believe, in that city, according to the story published in the Republican several evenings since. Mr. and Mrs. Norton are accompanied by their three young children, and were accompanied on the first stage of their journey celestial to Oakland pier by a number of relatives.

The people who left this afternoon are under the impression that the Lord will reveal himself to them and to his chosen people, numbering 144,000, at the Michigan city, early in the coming year. They have an abiding faith in this belief, and in carrying out their plans sacrificed their property here on Boyce street to obtain the finances needed to travel half way across the continent.

Mr. and Mrs. Norton assert that others from this city will also journey to meet the Lord in Michigan, and they expect to make their home there for some time to come. It is the belief of these people that they will be permitted to live and inherit the earth after the Lord has manifested himself to them in an unmistakable manner. The Santa Rosans believe they will be enaged [sic] from mortal to immortal on obtaining the expected vision of the Savior of Mankind.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 28, 1905

Still Await His Coming

Letters have been received from Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Norton who recently left here for Bar Harbor [sic], Mich., to join others of the same faith to “meet the Lord.” The letters are dated from the “House of David” and tell of the colony of the “Lord’s chosen” who have gathered from all parts of the earth to await His coming. The colony is said to have all the conveniences that “modern science and ingenuity has invented from the greatest to the smallest.”

– Press Democrat, January 17, 1906

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