Last week the North Bay Bohemian published an essay that tried hard to trash Gaye LeBaron. The popular weekly tabloid trashed only its own reputation instead.

The article by Peter Byrne, “The Shame of Santa Rosa: Whiteness, and the Culture of Lynching” (March 16, 2022) insinuated LeBaron is a passive racist and a cheerleader for murderous cops and vigilantes. Extraordinary accusations must be backed up with extraordinary evidence, you’d think, but apparently the Bohemian does not agree.

In response I wrote a letter-to-the-editor which the paper did not publish online or in print, so I’m making it available below as an open letter to the Bohemian. I am not allowing comments on this posting because SantaRosaHistory.com shouldn’t be a forum for “atta boy” or “you suck” remarks or flame wars. If you want to comment on my opinions, please do so on FaceBook, Twitter or elsewhere on unsociable media.

This incident leaves me personally saddened. Thirty-odd years ago I wrote often for the Bohemian’s predecessors, The Paper and the Independent, as well as writing a column about the early internet for the current publisher’s flagship weekly, the San Jose Metro. Despite this article I have great respect for the Bohemian; Will Carruthers’ recent series on the eye-popping shenanigans by directors of the SMART rail line represents some of the best investigative reporting you’ll find anywhere.

Some of the things in my letter may not make much sense without reading the original Bohemian article, so read it if you must. But do so with a warning that whiplash injuries may result; the essay careens wildly through all sorts of unrelated points, past and modern, all to deliver a message which seems damning only to its author.



Wow, Gaye LeBaron is an accessory to murder as well as a white supremacy propagandist! I’m guessing Peter Byrne’s intention was to link historic lynchings with modern police violence, but his muddled essay comes across mostly as a nasty hit piece against a respected journalist.

Byrne makes an outlandish claim she wrote “hundreds of stories glorifying white men wielding badges, batons, guns, and in some instances, hanging nooses”. Since he must have never seen a Gaye LeBaron column, he might be surprised to learn she wasn’t a reporter or editorial writer. Before mainly focusing just on history, she was the Press Democrat’s “local color” columnist, usually passing on funny items contributed by readers or things heard around town. In the mid-1980s people were saying the Sheriff’s Department was in disarray and she wrote that up as well, leading Sheriff Dick Michaelsen to send a letter complaining that her columns had “done nothing but discredit law enforcement in general.”

Series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa


Next the Bohemian article jumps to a discussion of the 1920 triple lynching in Santa Rosa. This is a story I know something about, having published a 36,000-word series at SantaRosaHistory.com.

There are a dozen factual errors or unfounded remarks in this section; most are trivial, but one false claim stands out. Byrne wrote “the vigilantes had enjoyed enthusiastic inside help from jailhouse deputies” and later, that a deputy “gladly handed over the keys to the vigilantes”. Testimony given to the Coroner’s jury agreed the deputies were held at gunpoint and did not cooperate in any way. Keys were not surrendered but pulled from the Sheriff’s pocket as he was being searched, likewise at gunpoint.

Another event further showed there was no complicity with the vigilantes. After Sheriff Petray was murdered a crowd of 3-4,000 assembled outside the jail and grew more threatening as the hours passed. Given the overwhelming number of violent rioters it might have been understandable if the officers had stepped aside, but they faced down the lynch mob. Joined with city policemen and some others sworn in as special deputies, they defended the building from attempts to batter down the door. Why did the Bohemian’s author neglect to even mention this siege of the jailhouse, given its significance?

Finally, there’s the issue of the 1985 confession by one of the vigilantes, over which the article makes a great stink because Gaye LeBaron did not turn him in to the cops. She sought counsel from a New York Times lawyer (then the paper’s owner) who predicted there would be no prosecution for such an ancient crime, which was accurate; District Attorney Gene Tunney didn’t even pick up the phone and speak to her, much less convene a Grand Jury.

And as for the notion that she should have refused to hear his account concerning such an historic event, I am gobsmacked. There is not a newsroom in the world where a man who walked in and said, “Hello, if you grant me anonymity I’ll reveal my part in the Kennedy assassination” would be told, “Begone, sir, that could be interpreted as making me an accessory to murder after the fact.”

Much of the article is hyperbole or sloppy research, and the conclusion that Sonoma County has a “culture of lynching” stretching back over a century is an ahistorical syllogism. Yes, it’s valid to make a case that the Sheriff’s Department is too white, too violent and too cowboy overall, and those problems are nothing new. But you can make those legitimate points by sticking to the facts without resorting to exaggerations and cherry-picking data – or using the issue as an excuse to write a hit piece on Gaye LeBaron.

Jeff Elliott
Santa Rosa, Calif.
March 21, 2022

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UPDATE 2015: The item below was written in 2009 and remains here only for posterity. At the time, desktop computers and netbooks (remember the fad for those small, cheap laptops?) were the only practical means of reading digital book facsimiles. It was before the advent of the iPad; the only mobile eReader was the first generation Kindle and that did not even have native PDF ability. The best mobile phone of the day was the iPhone 3GS and its screen was too small and too low-resolution for serious reading.

Today all mobile devices have available apps that can display PDF books, usually offering markup features such as highlighting, note-taking and multiple bookmarks that were not even available on most PDF desktop readers in 2009. There is no longer any need to split up a PDF into separate files or do any other somersaults to read a facsimile book on a mobile device.

The library section of the Comstock House website continues to grow with new titles added monthly. Many of these works remain difficult to find online; where possible, links to sources are provided allowing anyone to download – and often more importantly, search – these materials. Since 2009, however, both Google Books and Archive.Org have modified some of their file directory structures; for example, web addresses at Google used to begin as “images.google.com” but that no longer works; it now must be “books.google.com”. Simply replace “images” with “books” and the URL should work. Archive.Org address changes are more varied. I am correcting these errors as I find them.

Some titles are simply no longer available online because modern publishers have republished these public domain works and claimed a new copyright. Download any books that are important to you; do not expect them to always be available in the future.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:  The library section of the Comstock House website has been completely redesigned, which should make it easier for newcomers to understand and more functional for everyone, including us.

Now the library simply presents a topic index. Under each is a catalog of related e-books. Seen on the right for each entry is the “Comments” field, which contains a link to an Internet location where you can read the book on-line or download it. More topics will be added and refined as the number of e-books in the library (rapidly!) expands.

The previous version failed for multiple reasons, primarily because it tried to reinvent too many wheels. It started as a hierarchical index of e-books referenced by blog articles, but it wasn’t long before books less directly related, even works of fiction, were added to the mix (trust me: if you knew how hard it is to find a readable facsimile of Dickens’ “Little Dorrit,” you’d want to share the link, too). That concept also hinged on using a customized e-book reader that required hand-coding a special file for each and every document. Even if the bugs and quirks in the open-source software could be tolerated, tweaking all those initialization files was a significant detriment to adding new entries.

A far better solution began with switching to LibraryThing for the actual database. Almost all of our real library is already cataloged using this remarkable web site; I can now search electronic and paper book records interchangeably, which is increasingly how I view books — I no longer care if I have a fine-condition early edition of a physical book or an excellent high-resolution scan of same.

The quest for a better e-book reader ended by discovering FFView (Mac only), which is a versatile image viewer that was originally intended for displaying comic books. For the first time, I can now curl up with a mini-laptop and have the same experience reading an electronic book as with the dead-tree kind.* To be clear, for those not familiar with the e-book world: I am reading scanned images from actual old books, displayed about the same size as the original pages. This is NOT the same as using a device such as Amazon’s Kindle, which, in my opinion, is comparable to reading a Word document printed on soggy, grey cardboard.

Also now included in our LibraryThing catalog are high-resolution historic maps and photographs in JPEG 2000 or MrSid formats, which usually require a special viewer to display. I highly recommend ExpressView, available for both Mac and PC.

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NOTE: This blog post is now obsolete. Update here.

A library section is now available on the comstockhouse.org website. To be clear: this is an electronic library only, and has nothing to do with the paper books resting on the shelves of Comstock House (although a catalog of that library is available over at LibraryThing).

The main objective of this e-library is to digitize non-copyrighted materials not found elsewhere on the Internet – and in some cases, are probably the only copies of those documents that still exist in any form, anywhere. These unique entries have a red star * at the end.

Most of the entries in this catalog, however, are facsimiles of books from Google, Internet Archive, or other on-line libraries that are referenced from our blog posts or essays, or likely to be referenced in the future. On our private network at Comstock House, these book-page images have been converted into “flip books” (more about flip books below).

Since this is also the catalog for our personal electronic library, still other books and magazines in the collection are for our private reference or pleasure reading; the first edition of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” for example, with its Victorian typography and abundant thumbnail illustrations, or the remarkable 1919 Hotel St. Francis cook book, a field guide to state-of-the-art fine dining in the early 20th century that could be a graduate course in Escoffier school cookery.

But flip book files can consume lots of bandwidth and disk space, and there’s no reason to duplicate here any of the e-books that are freely available elsewhere on the Internet. For every entry in the public portion of our electronic library, a link is always provided for downloading a PDF copy of the material from our same source. If you’d like to turn that material into a flip book, send e-mail and I’ll be glad to send instructions and supporting files.


“Flip books” are electronic copies of printed materials, presented in a way that simulates reading an actual paper book or magazine. Two pages are presented side-by-side, and the reader flips pages by clicking on the left or right page. These flip books will display on any type of computer but will not work with Internet Explorer. Please view flip books with Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, or any other browser that complies with industry standards.

Below is a guide to using the Comstock House library flip book reader:

1 INDEX Return to Comstock House electronic library index

2 mySearch Find other e-books or search for used books

3 RELATED ARTICLE Essay or blog post referencing this material

4 Source Book Link Where to read this book on-line or download it free

5 Zoom controls Magnify or demagnify the current page

6 Single Page/Flip Book Switch between single and double page mode

7 Auto page turn When clicking to turn the page is just too much work

8 RAW PDF Download the current page as a PDF at higher resolution (not available for all books)

This flip book reader is a modified version of the open source GnuBook Bookreader.

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