Once upon a time Sebastopol had a popular and beautiful lake until the town turned it into an open cesspool. As the saying goes, this is why we can’t have nice things.

A small remnant of the lake can still be seen during the rainy season at the intersection of High School and Occidental Roads but more than a century ago it was year-round. Here’s how the Sebastopol Times described it in 1903: “A beautiful body of water a mile long, 150 feet wide, and from 20 to 30 feet deep, boarded with oaks, willows, etc., is situated within a mile of town and is a favorite place for bathing, boating, and fishing.” Five years earlier a tourist praised in the Sebastopol Times its “crystal laughing waters” which seems a bit embroidered, but it’s safe to presume it was a very pleasant place.

(RIGHT: Colored postcard of Lake Jonive in 1908. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

It was known as Lake Jonive (“strangers will take notice that it is pronounced ‘Ho-nee-va,'” the Press Democrat noted in a promotional supplement, adding a syllable lost today). The papers also called it the Lagoon or simply the Laguna, although that shorthand was also used in other stories about plans to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa plain – more about that in a moment.

The Sonoma County Library has about twenty photographs of Lake Jonive, mostly from around 1900 and mostly showing people boating. The photo marked “Pleasure Resort” shows the swimmer’s diving tower and wooden landing where all those women with elaborate, flowery hats rented boats from Joe Moran’s family, on the western shore. Other snapshots show couples lounging on the lake banks, which was also where crews of hop pickers pitched tents during the harvest season. No anglers are pictured but it was a very popular fishing hole where anyone could catch salmon and steelhead, carp (which appeared after a 1878 flood washed them out of a private pond), bass and catfish (which were introduced in following years in efforts to kill the carp). “From the clear waters of this body have been caught salmon-trout that filled the sportsman’s heart with joy,” boasted a promotional article in the 1902 Sebastopol Times.

The last known photo dates from 1912, which may be because the following year Lake Jonive was thick with dead and dying fish.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist told the Press Democrat. “I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air.”

Water samples and dead fish were sent to San Francisco for analysis. Unfortunately, we don’t know the results; the Santa Rosa papers didn’t mention the topic again, and there is no Sebastopol Times microfilm for 1913. But the fish were clearly gasping for air because they were asphyxiating – the lake was so polluted the water was nearly dead from lack of oxygen. Part of the blame likely goes to the canneries; apple pomace sucks up lots of O2 as it decays, not to mention the peels having residual lead arsenate from the insecticides used in that era. What was mainly killing the lake, however, was the 100,000 gallons of untreated septic tank effluent Sebastopol was pumping into the southern end of the lake every day.

In the years around the turn of the century, Sebastopol was perpetually on the verge of a major public health crisis. Following a diphtheria outbreak in 1898 there were calls to do something about the sewage problem. Homes had an outhouse or cesspool and since most of the town is built on a slope, any overflow or leaks flowed down the street or on to a downhill neighbor’s property – and maybe into their private well. A few years later a Sebastopol Times editorial commented the smell was “the most detestable foulness imaginable.” Once the town incorporated in 1902 efforts were quickly undertaken to buy equipment to pump the failing cesspools and three years later, bonds were sold to build an actual sewer system, which terminated in a big wooden septic tank slightly north of today’s Teen Center on Morris street. From late 1906 everything collected there was flushed directly into Lake Jonive without any treatment. This system remained in place until 1929.

(By the way: Except for the events of 1912 and 1913, most of the research here comes from John Cummings, who wrote several excellent papers on Sebastopol history which are available for download from SSU. If you’re interested in this topic or Sebastopol history in general I encourage you to explore them.)

Sebastopol’s toilets may have been the main culprit in the killing of Lake Jonive, but there were other threats. Over the course of three generations – from 1877 to 1946 – there were numerous plans to drain the Laguna and reclaim the fertile soil for cultivation. The proposal in early 1913 was to blast a four-mile canal between the lake and the Russian River. The Santa Rosa papers commented that property owners were enthusiastic because the land “has no particular value” as it was.

(RIGHT: Swimmers in Lake Jonive in 1909. Kids, don’t swallow the water. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Like most of these half-baked schemes, the 1913 plan didn’t get out of the preliminary stages. One that did find some traction came in 1929, when Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley and L. C. Cnopius of Sebastopol blasted a half-mile ditch between their properties which resulted in Lake Jonive – or what remained of it, by then – dropping eighteen inches. Finley also led efforts during the Great Depression to get the state involved in a works project to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa. More about that can likewise be found in the Cummings papers.

While sewage poisoned the lake and reclamation projects repeatedly threatened to destroy it altogether, neither explain what reduced Lake Jonive to its relatively puddle-like size. In a 1955 story on local history, the Sebastopol Times quoted a member of the Moran family as saying, “when [Sebastopol] put in the sewer plant it encouraged weeds to grow and silt filled it in.” Another significant factor was garbage – next to the sewer farm was the town dump, which covered roughly the area around today’s Community Center, park and ball field.

There were apparently no restrictions on what could be thrown there and whenever there were heavy rains the tin cans, bottles and other lighter trash washed into the lake. In 1926 the city council declared it an “unsightly mess” and imposed fees (75¢ for an abandoned car, please). Sebastopol didn’t close the dump until 1966, and then only after strong pressure from the county health department citing both Russian river water contamination and air pollution from the dump’s incinerator.

Lake Jonive was Sebastopol’s jewel, an irreplaceable treasure which the town and canneries killed in just six years. There’s irony in noting it was 1910 – smack in the middle of the tragedy – when the town held its very first Gravenstein Apple Show, promoting the apple industry’s special relationship with the community. Such a pity that was the only thing that Sebastopol thought was worth celebrating.

Project Would Reclaim Two Thousand Acres of Land

Parties interested in the drainage of the lands lying along the water course in western Sonoma county, known as the laguna, have planned to hold a mass meeting at the office of the Leppo Realty Company, on Fourth street, at 10 o’clock on the morning of January 4th. To this meeting all persons owning land along the laguna and adjacent thereto are urged to be present and take part in the discussions.

It is planned to cut a channel in the laguna to guide the waters straight to the river, and not permit them to overflow hundreds of acres each winter, as they have done for hundreds of years past. This annual inundation of these lands have deposited a rich sediment there, but it has made it impossible to farm them. When a channel has been cut to carry off this water and confine it to a narrow bed, these hundreds of acres will be reclaimed, and they will be among the most valuable and productive in the entire country.

Contractors will be in attendance at this meeting and submit plans and estimates for doing the work, and if arrangements are made they will be in position to speedily undertake and carry out the contract. This will give for farming purposes from 1500 to 2000 acres of lance, which is now considered waste, because of the annual overflow, which makes it impossible to get crops therefrom.

The channel which it is proposed to cut will be 25 feet wide and not less than 6 feet deep at any portion of the stream. This will give an abundant passageway for confining the waters of the laguna, and prevent them from spreading over these hundreds of acres, destroying their usefulness from a productive standpoint. This will give a direct channel from Sebastopol to Russian river, and make a water course of about six miles, on which the people of the Sebastopol section could maintain launches and other small craft. This straight channel will give an opportunity for fish to come from the river, and so stock the streams tributary to the laguna, and will provide the local fishermen with an exceptional abundance of sport along that favorite line.

Contractors who are willing to undertake the work of cutting the channel will present their proposition to the property owners at the meeting on January 4th, and it is certain that the reclaiming of this quantity of land will add materially to the wealth of Sonoma county and to its taxable property, besides becoming valuable for the owners, where not it has no particular value. The project is one of far reaching importance, and it is hoped that every one residing along the stream will attend the meeting.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 27, 1912


Seek to Reclaim About 2,000 Acres of Fertile Farm Land in the Gold Ridge Section

To recover about two thousand acres of land by draing the Laguna de Santa Rosa was the proposition discussed at a meeting of the property owners adjoining the Laguna, held on Saturday morning. It is proposed to cut a channel from the Laguna to the Russian river, a distance of about four miles. This will enable the water to be carried off and the rich land placed under cultivation.

The meeting was called to order and J. D. Baliff was chosen chairman…F. C. Stauvel was appointed to take up the matter with the remaining property owners to see if they would join in defraying the cost.

Two methods were discussed to put the proposed ditch through. One was by dredger and the other by dynamite. The latter was favored as being more economical. It is thought that there will be about four miles that will have to be dredged. The project is a large one and the property owners are very enthusiastic about it.

– Press Democrat, January 5, 1913



County Health Officer S. S. Bogle received a telephone message Monday morning from the Lake Jonive section near Sebastopol, stating that for some unknown cause all the fish were dying in Lake Jonive, and asking that the matter be given immediate attention. Dr. Bogle sent Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist to the scene and the officer found that the report was correct. The top of the water of the lake was thick with all kinds of fish, Mr. Gist says. There were immense black bass, carp and catfish, and some smaller ones too, but hundreds of them, wiggling about in the water with their mouths open as if gasping for air, and all presumably endeavoring to get to a fresh water stream at another end of the lake.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air. It beat anything you can imagine.

“Unlike the shyness fish usually exhibit when an angler is after them, these shoals of fish came right towards us. They all seemed to be wanting to get to the fresh water. I telephone and get Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Henry Lencioni to come over from Santa Rosa and when he arrived he was just as surprised as I was. He could not fathom the cause of the trouble any more than I could. We discovered that some distance further up the Laguna the water from the septic tanks of the Sebastopol sewer system empties into the Laguna which passes through Lake Jonive. Draining from the wineries and some pomace has been passing through the sewer into the water. I think possibly some matter may have gotten into the lake from this source. The fish looked as if they were intoxicated. We got several samples of water from the place where the septic tank water empties into the Laguna, then we got some further down and also a sample from the fish pond. We also caught some of the fish and the water and fish we are going to take to the analyst in San Francisco for examination tomorrow. Then we shall know what has caused this unusual stir among the fish in Lake Jonive. I had been told that a person could not catch fish in the Lake. There were certainly enough of them, dead and living, yesterday.”

– Press Democrat, November 11, 1913


Read More


Like robins in spring, the return of the Barlow boys to the Sebastopol work camps announced the arrival of summer.

(Handwritten caption on photo: “A squad goes to a near by farm to pick berries.” Photo early 1910s and courtesy Western Sonoma County Historical Society)

In the early Twentieth Century, California juvenile courts sentenced boys who committed minor crimes or deemed incorrigible to spend the rest of their youth at institutions not unlike a modern prison halfway house. One of these places, the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of San Francisco, struck a deal with the Barlow family of Sebastopol; during summers the boys would camp on the ranch and pick berries and fruit for low pay. Soon other farmers wanted in on the sweet deal for ultra-cheap labor and it wasn’t long before the Aid Society and similar institutions were sending up hundred of boys – some as young as seven – to work in West County fields and canneries every year. (For more background, see “SEBASTOPOL’S CHILD LABOR CAMPS.”)

The year 1911 wasn’t much different than previous years; at least four boys tried to escape and a pair of them made it as far as Sacramento – no easy task, considering their clothes were locked up at night and they probably had little or no money. The Santa Rosa newspapers predictably described the Aid Society children as being on “vacation” during their time here and boasted they were earning “splendid wages,” without mentioning they were being paid a fraction of the rate formerly earned by the adult farmworkers they were displacing.

Some new details did emerge however; we learn the Barlow boys were sometimes working over eleven hours a day in the fields, which certainly puts a crimp in the ol’ “vacation” portrayal. Thanks to a Press Democrat summary of the Aid Society’s annual report, we find more than a dozen of the boys escaped or tried to escape from their facility in San Francisco during the year, so it wasn’t just that they disliked their hands and arms being incessantly scratched by thorns all summer. The Aid Society placed employment above education and about two in three of the kids had a job, which suggests the Barlow boys were the leftovers, either too young to work or unemployable for some reason. Although they said “night classes are conducted for the benefit of these working boys and every boy is given an opportunity to improve his education,” I’m certain a 12 year-old who spends all day sweeping factory floors is raring to be drilled on his multiplication tables after supper.

We don’t know much about the boys individually except for the occasional anecdote, such as the two Santa Rosa kids who were sentenced there for truancy and stealing chickens in 1907. But we do know some interesting stuff about them as a group because a medical journal published a 1916 study of the “juvenile delinquents” at the Aid Society. We learn they were mostly a little taller and heavier and stronger than average for their age, with over half suffering dental problems – which is really no surprise as the kids were expected to pay for their own dentistry out of their earnings (clothing, too). .

Measuring their physical traits is all well and good, but what the researchers really wanted to know was this: How smart were they? Linking criminality to low intelligence was one of the burning scientific questions of the day, and most of the boys were sentenced to the Aid Society for minor crimes – stealing, burglary, truancy and incorrigibility (children who committed serious crimes went to the Preston School of Industry at Ione, which was like a prison). To make sense of what they found, we have to first wade into the murky waters of the “IQ” test.

How do you estimate intelligence? At the turn of the century, you primarily measured the size and shape of someone’s head; a pretty skull meant there were probably pretty brains inside, and a noggin that was small or shaped the “wrong” way meant the person wasn’t too bright and probably wanted to steal your watch. There were other considerations (tattoos! long arms! “precocious” wrinkles!) but all came down to the nonsense that you could tell how smart, dumb, or inclined to criminality someone was by looking at their body.

French psychologist Alfred Binet was among a few pioneers in his field experimenting with a radical new approach: Evaluating how well someone answered questions and solved problems. In 1904 the French government hired him to develop a test to identify children with learning disabilities so they could be helped with special education. Over the next several years he refined his method with a colleague and the “Binet-Simon Scale” became the standard method of evaluating children, although he never claimed his technique measured intelligence.

Binet’s test was adapted for American use in 1916 by Stanford University professor Lewis Terman, whose main interest was the opposite – using the test to spot “gifted” children. If those kids were given a good education, he believed they would grow up to be captains of industry, statesmen, brilliant scientists and other topnotch achievers. Professor Terman, it seems, was a true believer in the dark nonsense of eugenics with its notion some people are superior to others.

To prove his point, he followed over a thousand high-IQ youths – almost all white and middle class – around for the rest of their lives (Terman called the subjects his “Termites,” yuk, yuk). Ultimately he proved himself wrong; while a great many of them went to college, overall they were no more successful than other American boys and girls in their generation. Only a handful made any sort of notable achievement, but ironically two young men who Terman deemed not smart enough to qualify later won a Nobel Prize in Physics (William Shockley and Luis Alvarez).

Terman’s eugenic views are most obvious when he classified kids at the lower end of the scale. Binet called these children “retarded,” meaning simply they weren’t keeping up with their peers, and besides a lack of intelligence the cause could be family problems, bad teachers, or other reasons that could be fixed. When explaining how his test should be used, he worried that psychologists were too eager to tar these children for life by slapping labels on their backs with vague meanings such as “idiot,” “imbecile” and “moron.” Professor Terman and other eugenicists instead claimed those derogatory terms had scientific precision. Those below an IQ of about 25 he classified as idiots; a ranking of 25-50 was an imbecile; anyone between 50 and 70 was a low, middle, or high moron. Terman believed schooling these “defectives” was a waste of time and taxpayer money, except for vocational training. Possibly.


Lewis Terman’s first revision of the Binet test can be found in his 1916 book, “The Measurement of Intelligence.” Getting a good IQ score required more than quick wits, however; you also had to share Terman’s prejudices and cultural background. Some examples:

* Shown a drawing of a Native American rowing a white man and woman in a canoe, children were asked to explain the picture. An acceptable answer was, “In frontier days a man and his wife have been captured by the Indians.” An example of an unsatisfactory reply was, “Indians have rescued a couple from a shipwreck.”

* Asked how a “knife blade, a penny and a piece of wire” were alike, acceptable answers included, “All are metal” or “All come from mines.” It was wrong to say “they are small” or all were the same metal. Aside from the problem of assuming knowledge of different types of metal qualifies as a measure of intelligence, this is a poorly designed question. All three objects could be copper; it was regularly used in wire and copper letter openers were made. Also, brass and steel, both commonly used in blades and wire, are alloys and not mined metals.

* “My neighbor has been having queer visitors. First a doctor came to his house, then a lawyer, then a minister (preacher or priest). What do you think happened there?” The only acceptable answer was some variation of “a death.” Of those who failed to answer correctly, over half apparently did not know that attorneys wrote wills or ministers conducted home funerals. Wrong answers also included “a baby born” and “a divorce,” which Terman remarked was a very common reply from children living in Reno, then a destination for people nationwide seeking to end a marriage.

In his book Terman provided several case studies of low-IQ children, and a common thread was the futility of keeping them in school.  A boy of eight was kicked out of kindergarten because his 50 IQ “required so much of the teacher’s time and [he] appeared uneducable.” A boy who just “stands around” and was “indifferent to praise or blame” was enrolled in a sixth-grade class at age 17, but was doing “absolutely nothing” in the classroom. They were also troublemakers, according to Terman: A “high-grade moron” boy “caused much trouble at school by puncturing bicycle tires.” A 14 year-old girl with an IQ of 65 was a “menace to the morals of the school because of her sex interests and lack of self-restraint.” Another young woman he called “the type from which prostitutes often come.”

The problem with eugenics (well, one of the problems) is that it’s built on the worst sort of slippery slope logic. Not only were defectives unteachable, declared Terman, but also prone to crime – a false assumption which still carried over from the days when we were looking at the shape of heads. In his 1916 book on the IQ test he wrote, “not all criminals are feeble-minded, but all feeble-minded are at least potential criminals. That every feeble-minded woman is a potential prostitute would hardly be disputed by any one.”

So did the IQ study of the Aid Society kids prove Terman right? The researchers found “dull normals” – meaning just slightly below average intelligence – were most likely to be there because they were skipping school (interestingly, they were also ten times more likely than any of the others to have bad hearing).

In the other three crime categories – stealing, burglary and incorrigibility – the boys with normal intelligence exceeded or were tied with those classified as being not as smart. More than half of the “normals” were there for stealing or burglary. The researchers also did a limited survey of the Aid Society boys’ backgrounds and it shows the main environmental factors they shared were extreme poverty and bad friends. It completely disproved Terman’s eugenics theories; these bad eggs were mostly average boys who happened to be poor and hung out with the wrong crowd.

Whether Terman read that study is unknown but it is extremely likely, given that it was based on the Binet tests he was then adapting for American use. It certainly didn’t make him waver in his views; as years went on his enthusiasm for eugenics hardened. He began saying some people – including entire nationalities and races – were uniformly inferior. He later wrote, “a median IQ of 80 for Italian, Portuguese, and Mexican school children in the cities of California would be a liberal estimate.”

We also can’t be sure if Terman ever came up from Stanford to visit Sonoma County, but if he did it was surely to meet Dr. Fred O. Butler of the Sonoma State Home (now called the Sonoma Developmental Center). Prof. Terman was an enthusiastic believer that “defectives” should be sterilized so they can’t parent children, and Dr. Butler had turned the hospital into a sterilization mill, leading the nation in performing thousands of such operations. And when eugenicists later classified homosexual boys and promiscuous girls as sexually delinquent defectives, they were forcibly sterilized by Dr. Butler as well (see “SONOMA COUNTY AND EUGENICS” for more).

Today the reputation of Lewis Terman has been largely whitewashed. A recent textbook on multicultural education points out that high school and college texts are likely to describe his genius tracking study and his revision of Binet’s scale but rarely is his eugenics history noted. A Google search for his name in scholarly books and journals shows the word “eugenics” appears in only 1 out of 10 works.

Yet the damage he caused was incalculable. By turning Binet’s method – which wasn’t intended to measure intelligence at all – into a written test with right and wrong answers, Terman made it easy to condemn people who tested poorly as inferiors, which usually leads to lives of lesser opportunities and hopes. He was a bad scientist with regrettable ethics; Terman was on the Advisory Committee of the American Eugenics Society and didn’t resign until after Hitler came to power, so maybe he should be called clueless as well.

The one bright spot in this dismal tale is that in 1916, the Barlow boys proved him completely, utterly wrong about everything. Too bad he wasn’t smart enough to pay attention.

Accomplishments of the Boys and Girls Aid Society–Boys Are Picking Berries

The annual meeting of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society was held on Tuesday for the purpose of hearing reports of the officers of the Society and electing a Board of Trustees for the ensuing year. In the absence of the president, Senator George C. Perkins, who is in Washington, D. C., the chair was taken by the vice-president, Charles A. Murdock.

The report of the superintendent, George C. Turner, gave the details of the splendid work of the Society for the needy boys of San Francisco and vicinity.

Two hundred and forty-one boys were received into the hands of the Society during the year ending June 30th, and received the benefits of special training and schooling including manual training under the Lloyd system.

The Society is working in conjunction with the juvenile courts and probation officers of this and other counties in the State and has received one hundred and forty boys from the courts.

As the boys improve in their conduct and when they have made satisfactory progress in their school work, they are secured positions through the employment agency maintained by the Society, through which one hundred and fifty-one boys were placed in good positions during the year.

The best qualities of manhood are developed by the care given the boys who are placed on their honor. This is shown by the fact that during last year 5,172 leaves of absence were granted on Sundays with but 13 failures to return–less than ½ of 1%.

For homeless boys the Society maintains the Charles R. Bishop Annex, where boys may board while they are learning trades and until they become self-supporting. These boys have individual rooms not very large, but neat and tasteful and have sitting rooms, library, and the family dining room where excellent meals are served at moderate rates. Night classes are conducted for the benefit of these working boys and every boy is given an opportunity to improve his education.

The younger boys are sent to approved country homes through the Children’s Agency, the Children’s Home Society and the Native Sons and Native Daughters Committee on Homeless Children, who last year placed out fifty-two boys for the Society. Children so placed are permanently removed from the streets of the city and often grow up in their environment.

In addition to the work in San Francisco, the Society maintains a summer camp on the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol, where last year one hundred and sixty-three boys were engaged in picking loganberries and Mammoths and Lawton blackberries, picking one hundred and ninety-four tons of berries and earning in all $3,948, of which the boys received $2,328.39, which was used for clothing and dentistry, and some of it put in the bank.

The summer outing is a great benefit to the boys and a great help to the berry growers, who have learned to depend on the boys for assistance in harvesting their berries.

The officers and trustees for the following year are: […]

– Press Democrat, July 21, 1911
Having Great Financial Success in Their Labors

Special Officer W. D. Scott, of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society, came up on the evening train Tuesday with several boys, who were being escorted to the berry fields at the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol.

Two of the boys in charge of Mr. Scott had recently made their escape from the berry fields, having taken French leave at night. They passed through this city and made their way to Sacramento before they wee captured. They were Clarence Johnson and H. Chapman. They enjoyed liberty for four days.

Officer Scott declares the boys in the berry fields are not only having one of the finest vacations they have ever enjoyed, but they are meeting with greater financial success than ever before. One of the boys in camp earned $2.64 in one day during the past week and most of the boys are averaging splendid wages. The berries are ripening rapidly and the lads are laboring until 6 o’clock each evening in the endeavor to relieve the vines of their burden of fruit before it becomes too ripe for shipment.

On a recent evening the books at the camp were examined and it was found that the boys had collectively earned $1800 up to that date in harvesting the berry crop. The harvest will last for some time to come, and it can be readily be seen what a financial benefit the outing of the boys turns out to be. Aside from this it gives the lads one of the best vacations in the country that could be planned for them.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 26, 1911

Two runaway boys from the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society camp at Mrs. Barlow’s ranch in the Gold Ridge district were taken back to camp by officers of the association Saturday night, after having been caught here by Officer Nick Yeager.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 31, 1911
Berry Harvesting Profitable to Large Number

Something of the magnitude of the berry industry in the Gold Ridge section can be ascertained when it is realized that the forces of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society this season earned more than $4600 gathering the crop. The boys were paid four cents per tray for the harvesting of the berries, both Logans and blacks.

The boys went into camp on the Barlow place about June 1st, and finished picking the berries on September 13. Their record this year shows that they have earned one hundred dollars more than on any previous year, the record of $4500 having been made in 1910. This would indicate that the berry crop was slightly larger this year than the previous season.

Two-thirds of this money will be distributed to the boys who earned it, and it will be given them in proportion to the amount earned by each individual boys. With the moneys [sic] given to the boys they have the right to choose what they will do with it, so long as the contemplated expenditure is legitimate. Many of the lads buy clothing, some place the money in bank to draw interest, while still others help their families financially. Most of the boys buy magazines with a portion of their coin.

During the year the boys were engaged in picking for about twenty people while they were in the Gold Ridge section. Their camp at the Barlow ranch was dismantled Friday morning, preparatory for their start for home and Old Glory, which has floated from the flagstaff there daily was hauled down with appropriate ceremonies.

Ninety-five boys were in the merry party which returned to San Francisco on the afternoon train Friday, having had one of the most enjoyable outings on record.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 15, 1911

Read More


Murder was almost unheard of in early 20th century Santa Rosa and West County, but in the late summer of 1910 there were two that happened within weeks. And because both killers were Japanese men, the coverage of the deeds in the Santa Rosa newspapers give us a snapshot of media attitudes on race.

Events began with the July murder of Enoch Kendall, his wife and adult son at the Lion’s Head Ranch near Cazadero. Their bodies had been dismembered and parts burned in the cookstove, with their remains of charred bones and ashes piled in the yard. The body of Mrs. Kendall, sans head and both legs, was found in the woods. The Press Democrat’s headline proclaimed it the “Most Atrocious Crime in History of Sonoma County.”

(RIGHT: Kendalls and Yamaguchi, illustration from the Oakland Tribune, August 5, 1910

Suspicion immediately fell on Henry Yamaguchi, a young Japanese laborer who knew the owner of the ranch. The Kendalls were leasing the property from Mrs. Margaret Starbuck of Oakland, who had been trying to evict them for some time; she had filed four lawsuits against the family in Sonoma County, accusing them of stealing and selling some of her cattle. Yamaguchi, who had previously performed a few odd jobs for Mrs. Starbuck at the ranch and at her Oakland home, now worked at the Cazadero Hotel and volunteered to keep an eye on the Kendalls for her.

When the bodies were found the police contacted Mrs. Starbuck. She told them that Yamaguchi had appeared at her Oakland residence unexpectedly around the day of the murders. He appeared to have been beaten up and  told her that the younger Kendall had shot at him. He had fought “all three of them,” according to Mrs. Starbuck, and he told her, “I do ’em all up; I put ’em away. They no bother you no more.” She was alarmed by his remarks, but as the murders had not yet been discovered, Yamaguchi was allowed to leave.

But once the crime was revealed, Yamaguchi could not be found. The local Japanese association immediately called a meeting in Santa Rosa and vowed to help search for him statewide, even raising money for a reward.

At the inquest Mrs. Starbuck told a more incriminating story, with Yamaguchi yelling, “I shot him! I shot him! I shot him!” before saying, “I kill myself; I must kill myself.” The coroner’s jury charged Yamaguchi with murder.

Exactly a month after Yamaguchi’s indictment, the second killing happened in Sebastopol. During the performance of a Japanese play by a touring company in Lincoln Hall (McKinley Street, near the movie theater) Y. Yasuda shot another a man twice from the back. He was immediately arrested, as was another Japanese man who took money from the dead man’s pockets. Yasuda says he acted in self defense and was held over for trial.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Grand Jury was investigating the Kendall murder case. Testimony was raising questions about the truthfulness of Mrs. Starbuck. At the earlier inquest she had already contradicted her original story that Yamaguchi appeared to have been beaten; she told the coroner he did not appear to have any injuries aside from a possible bruise on a cheek. It also came out at the inquest that she was the only person who heard Yamaguchi’s confession. Mr. Starbuck testified he came home later and found his wife quite agitated and Yamaguichi sobbing that he would kill himself. The husband said he considered the story “too preposterous” to believe and “if Yamaguichi had fought all three of the Kendalls he could not have hurt them much.” As Yamaguichi was just five feet three and weighed 120 pounds, the crime would have been quite the job for him, what with all the butchery required.

Witnesses told the Grand Jury she remained determine to evict the Kendalls despite losing the four lawsuits against them. She instructed a man named Cox to find her a new tenant. Cox asked how she would get the Kendalls to leave, she allegedly told him, “there are more ways than one to get them off.” She also tried to sell the ranch, which she had denied in earlier testimony:

W. B. Quigley flatly contradicted Mrs. Starbuck regarding the proposed sale or transfer of the ranch to Japanese for colonization or other purposes. He testified that he had about completed negotiations for the sale of the ranch when a hitch occurred and the deal was declared off. Mrs. Starbuck later denied any such deal as that first above mentioned, had ever been contemplated.

While none of this incriminated Mrs. Starbuck in an actual crime, it certainly called into question her other testimony. At the end of the story the Press Democrat commented, “It is declared by those who know that there was sufficient shifting of both the testimony of Mrs. Starbuck and her husband to have considerable effect if the case ever comes to trial. There are those who believe she is still keeping secret more than she is telling in the case.”

Yamaguchi was indicted by the Grand Jury, despite the only thread of evidence against him being an alleged confession to a woman who apparently had a deep and irrational hatred for the Kendalls. Let me repeat that: A man was indicted for murder only on the word of a person who wanted the victims out of her hair. Such an outrageous abuse of justice makes it impossible to imagine racism was not a major factor in the Grand Jury’s indictment.

But the topic here is media racism: Did the 1910 and 1911 newspapers report this story – and the one about the Sebastopol murder – with prejudice? The answer is mixed.

Cheer that the racial slur “little brown men” didn’t once appear in either paper, although both used it the year before in almost every story about local Japanese. In 1910, “Jap” and “Nipponese” were as nasty as the name-calling got. Not that there wasn’t racist news reported that year; there was also a lecture on Japanese exclusion in Santa Rosa, ending with a resolution calling for boycotts against Japanese labor and businesses as well as anyone else who engaged with anyone Japanese.

The downside was that the papers made the two Japanese men into cardboard villains. Readers learned nothing about Yamaguchi, although the police description mentioned he was a member of a Methodist Church in Oakland and “was well known in Fruitvale.” The Press Democrat ran at least a dozen stories on the Kendall murders, several with front page headlines; couldn’t they have spared a reporter for an afternoon to interview people who knew him best? For the Yasuda shooting, we never learned about a motive, aside from hints such as, “the trouble that led to the shooting grew out of some gambling deals.”

There was no interest in reporting on the trial proceedings of a Japanese-upon-Japanese crime, so coverage of the Sebastopol killing instead relentlessly focused on any white people involved in the story, particularly Frank Harrington, the ticket taker at Lincoln Hall and only non-Japanese person in attendance.  Harrington disarmed Yasuda after the incident; according to the Santa Rosa Republican, it was an act of heroism straight from a dime novel:

Mr. Harrison the doorkeeper of the theater, showed remarkable coolness and presence of mind in the turbulent scenes which followed. As the Jap with the smoking pistol came toward him at the door he struck the man in the face, grasped the pistol from him and held him there until he was taken into custody. Had the Japanese escaped from the theater and mingled in the crowd, it would have given the officers difficulty to apprehend him.

Note the soft racism that officers would not be able to identify Yasuda if he was in a crowd of other Japanese. (Note also that the Republican was too busy turning the incident into a ripping yarn to spell the Harrington’s name correctly.) When the trial was held coverage in both papers was perfunctory, the main point of interest being that the Japanese translator was a white man. “The way he handled the questions and answers was a revelation to those in the courts who had rarely heard a Caucasian speak the language.”

Both stories had unsatisfying endings.

Yasuda was found not guilty by the jury, which must have come as a shock to Santa Rosans, as there had been no mention of evidence showing he could have acted in self defense.

Yamaguchi’s picture appeared prominently in newspapers in Santa Rosa and San Francisco and elsewhere, and a $1,000 reward was offered – half from the Governor and half from William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner. Despite false sightings in Oakland, Vacaville and a train bound for Mexico, he was never found.

Mrs. Starbuck and her husband divorced not long after the Kendall murders. History has come to judge her harshly; mentions of the incident found on the Internet today claim she was “implicated” in the crime, and sometimes it’s claimed that she sent Yamaguchi to the Kendalls with orders to “give ’em hell.” Neither were true.



At the meeting held in Trembley hall on Sunday night at which an address was delivered on Japanese exclusion, the following resolutions were adopted:

“Whereas, The petitions of the people of California and other Pacific Coast states demanding relief from Japanese and other Asiatic immigration are unheeded and ignored by Congress, and

“Whereas, the situation is growing more grave and inimical to the welfare of the white race, be it

Resolved, That a boycott be instituted against Japanese and other Asiatics.

1. A boycott against all articles grown or manufactured by Japanese

2. A boycott against all Japanese engaged in business of any kind

3. A boycott against all white persons engaged in business, manufacture or agriculture who employ or patronize Japanese

4. A political boycott irrespective of party against all candidates  who employ or patronize Japanese, or who hold stock in any corporation employing Japanese, or who are not avowedly and openly opposed to further Japanese immigration.

“It is further resolved to enforce and encourage said boycott by every legitimate and legal means to the end that coolie or servile labor may no longer menace the free institutions of this republic.

– Press Democrat, February 8, 1910
Japanese Slain by Fellow Countryman in Lincoln Hall at Sebastopol Sunday Night

From comedy to tragedy the scene was quickly changed in Lincoln hall at Sebastopol on Sunday night. Mimicry suddenly gave way to realism and real murder was done before the eyes of 250 persons, who, at the time were in the hall witnessing a production by a Japanese theatrical company, the play was one of the features of entertainment the Japanese had arranged. The actors were before the footlights and the Nipponese were applauding their offerings of mirth when all of a sudden and without warning, a pistol shot rang out, followed in quick succession by others. Instantly there was wild confusion, and a babel  of tongues. Chairs were upset and men and women scrambled to nearby cover. As described by Frank Harrington, who chanced to be the only spectator at the play and the subsequent slaying, it was certainly a time of terror for the Japanese. When the smoke cleared away Hisayama lay dead upon the floor, shot through the heart and chest. His assailant, Yasuda, still held the smoking weapon threateningly.

Harrington’s Nerve

Harrington took in the situation in an instant. He rushed to the side of the slayer and grabbed the hand that held the gun. A struggle ensued but Harrington wrenched the revolver from Yasuda and turned the weapon upon him, subduing any further onslaught upon anyone, and then kept the crowd at bay while he placed the murderer under arrest.

City Marshall Fisher Arrives

Yasuda was jailed by City Marshal Fisher and a message telling of the killing was sent to District Attorney Clarence Lea. That official jumped from his bed, rang up Court Reporter Harry Scott, and in a very short time they were starting for Sebastopol in an automobile, stopping to pick up Deputy Sheriff Donald McIntosh. At Sebastopol the District Attorney took a number of statements and Deputy Sheriff McIntosh took another Jap into custody on suspicion that he might have taken some coin from Hisayama’s pocket after the latter had been killed. The officials returned to this city at an early hour on Monday morning. District Attorney Lea, Sheriff Smith and Court Reporter Scott returned again to Sebastopol later in the morning and secured additional details. Coroner Blackburn was also notified.

Said to Be Gambler

The dead Japanese is said to have been a gambler and that the trouble that led to the shooting grew out of some gambling deals. Yasuda says he acted in self defense.

Coroner Blackburn will hold an inquest at Sebastopol this evening at seven o’clock.

– Press Democrat, September 27, 1910

Gambling Quarrel Between Japs Result in Death

Hisayame, A Santa Rosa Japanese, was murdered in the Japanese theater at Sebastopol Sunday evening by Y. Yasede, a Japanese from Asti. The murder was committed about 11 o’clock and was the result of an old gambling quarrel the two had had. The murderer was caught immediately after taking the life of his countryman. Frank Harrington, the ticket taker at the Japanese theater, apprehending him. Yasede was held in the city jail at Sebastopol over Sunday night.

Coroner Frank L. Blackburn came over from Monte Rio Monday morning…

…The murdered man was shot twice from the rear, and either of the wounds wound have been sufficient to have produced death. One of the bullets entered the man’s back near the spinal column and came out near the nipple of the left breast, evidently having passed through the heart. The other shot entered back of the right ear and came out at the right side of the man’s nose. He dropped in his tracks and expired instantly.

Mr. Harrison the doorkeeper of the theater, showed remarkable coolness and presence of mind in the turbulent scenes which followed. As the Jap with the smoking pistol came toward him at the door he struck the man in the face, grasped the pistol from him and held him there until he was taken into custody. Had the Japanese escaped from the theater and mingled in the crowd, it would have given the officers difficulty to apprehend him.

Coroner Frank L. Blackburn was over at Sebastopol Monday and looking over the matter…

 – Santa Rosa Republican, September 27, 1910

The Coroner’s jury at Sebastopol last night formally charged Y. Yasuda with the murder of Y. Hisayama in Lincoln hall in that town last Sunday night during the performance of a Japanese play. He is in jail here to await the holding of the preliminary examination.

Several witnesses were called at the inquest held by Coroner Frank L. Blackburn…The testimony was sufficient to warrant the formal charge of murder in the minds of the jurymen, and they did not hesitate in returning a verdict.

Medical evidence given showed that Hisayama’s death must have been instantaneous. One bullet severed the jugular vein and the other passed through the heart. The location of the shots indicated the deadly and murderous aim of the accused.

One of the principal witnesses was Frank Harrington, the only white man present at the Japanese play at which the murder was committed and whose evidence is very material. Mr. Harrington grabbed the pistol from Yasuda’s hands after the shooting to prevent further trouble.

Another Japanese has been arrested. He was arrested for having removed coin from the dead Japanese’s pockets. He was a close friend of the murdered man, and half of the money he took belonged to him, so he says.

– Press Democrat, September 28, 1910


At the trial of Y. Yasuda before Judge Emmet Seawell on Wednesday afternoon, F. W. Harrington and J. F. Ames were the witnesses examined. Yasuda is charged with the murder of O. Hisayama in Sebastopol.

Harrington is the man who wrested the revolver from Yasuda after he had killed Hisayama, and as he was trying to escape from Lincoln hall, where the murder was committed during the presentation of a Japanese drama. Harrington told the jury of the events prior to and at the time of the killing so far as they lay in his knowledge. Mr. Ames’ testimony was along similar lines.

At the morning session Thursday Ed F. O’Leary testified to the bullet holes in the clothing of the deceased, and the clothes were introduced in evidence and inspected by the jury.

Dr. J. E. Maddux gave the jury information relative to the course pursued by the bullet that had entered the body of Hisayama.

Fred R. Mathews told the court and jury of the arrest of the defendant, and of his detention awaiting trial.

G. Oka and F. Morseiya, Japanese, were witnesses also. They gave their testimony through an official interpreter.

At the afternoon session of the murder trial, the proceedings were quite brief. Y. Maruyama testified for the defendant, and another witness was recalled for further examination.

Attorney George W. Hoyle made the opening address for the prosecution and was followed by Attorney Thomas J. Butts. The closing argument was made by Attorney Hoyle.

Charles H. Gaffney, official interpreter of the Japanese language in the San Francisco courts, was the interpreter at the trial. The way he handled the questions and answers was a revelation to those in the courts who had rarely heard a Caucasian speak the language.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, March 23, 1911

Y. Yasuda, Charged With Murder of O. Hisayama in Sebastopol, is Found Not Guilty

Y. Yasuda, the Japanese charged with the murder of O. Hisayama, in Lincoln Hall, Sebastopol, last fall, during the Oriental theatrical performance, was acquitted Thursday evening by a jury after less than half an Hour’s deliberation.

The taking of testimony was completed shortly after the opening of the afternoon session. Assistant District Attorney G. W. Hoyle, who conducted the prosecution argued the case, reviewing the points of the trial as they had been brought out in the testimony and asked for a conviction.

Attorney T. J. Butts, who represented the defendant, made a strong plea for an acquittal, on the ground of self-defense, after which Hoyle closed the case and it was submitted to the jury. On the first ballot the jury stood 11 to 1 for acquittal, and after a few minutes argument and explanation, the one went over and the next ballot was unanimous for acquittal.

The verdict came as a complete surprise to some, while others who had watched the case expected no other action. Yasuda left the courtroom with his countrymen after he had shook hands and thanked each of the jurors.

– Press Democrat, March 24, 1911

Read More