Followups to some articles from the 1905-1906 Santa Rosa newspapers discussed in earlier posts:

* 1906 EARTHQUAKE: THE LONG CLEANUP The 1906 earthquake flattened much of downtown Santa Rosa, and it took an army of workers six weeks to clear just the worst of it. What happened to that mountain of rubble? Most of it was hauled away by train, as shown in many photographs of men with shovels standing next to flatcars (perhaps they would have done more shoveling and less standing around if the town had paid them more than $2/day, which was 50ยข below the prevailing wage for manual labor). But not all the debris left town; some was apparently used as riprap on the creeks, and hundreds of loads were used by Santa Rosa as fill for the approaches to the new E street bridge. As a result, the banks of Santa Rosa Creek were squeezed together by over one hundred feet, the first in a century of abuses to a waterway that had salmon runs so plentiful that fish could be caught barehanded.

* THE MAN WHO WOULD BE SIDEWALK KING There couldn’t have been a more dolorous figure in early 20th c. Santa Rosa than Joseph Forgett, whose love for opium led him further and further down unlovely paths. In 1905 he was charged with carrying a meat cleaver under his coat and stealing an opium pipe; nearly two years later he was the ringleader in a jail break. The items below from early 1907 document what he was doing inbetween, including fraud and petty theft.

* THE STREET KNEE-DEEP IN MUD Enough with the complaints about potholes on Santa Rosa streets; a little over a hundred years ago, there was a crater on Sebastopol Ave. that regularly sank buggies up to their axles – and considering that a buggy axle was between 16-26 inches off the ground, this was a Pothole From Hell, indeed. And even worse, it took the town over three years to patch it. The problem was apparently a feud between the town and the owners of a property at the corner of Boyd street, who refused to sell their 14-foot frontage to allow the street to be widened and drainage added. Until it was resolved in 1907, it was a frequent topic of hand-wringing at City Council meetings, with it even proposed that a bridge should be built over the hole.

* ANY ROBIN ON THE MENU? It may sound Henry VIII-ish today, but at the turn of the 20th century, songbirds baked in a pie, particularly robins, were considered good eatin’ by many. The group that came to Sonoma County in 1907 for robin hunting soon would face a change to the law that made it a felony to harm or deal in robins, meadowlarks and “any wild bird” (except for sparrows, bluejays, pigeons, and other birds considered pests). The crime was later downgraded to a misdemeanor.
New Structure a Complete Change to the Old One–The Approaches Are Filled In

Few people who have not visited the E street bridge know of the extensive improvements that are being made in connection with the erection of the new bridge. In a few days the bridge will be opened for traffic.

The bridge is a pile bridge with one span of forty-six feet. The approaches of the old bridge have been cut down so that the main bridge and approaches together are only a little over ninety feet. Before they were over two hundred feet. Hundreds of loads of old brick and debris–have been used in filling in the approaches so that the bridge will be on a level with the grade of the street.


– Press Democrat, January 13, 1907
Constable Boswell Locates Man He Wanted

Joseph Forgett was arrested Saturday morning by Constable Boswell, charged with having embezzled a sum of money from a physician. He is alleged to have represented to the physician that he was in the employ of Henry Von Grafen, and that he had a large sum of money due him. On the strength of this statement he secured some coin. Later it was learned that he had not been in the employ of Von Grafen at all.

Constable Boswell has been searching for the man for several days, and made two trips to the tent occupied by Forgett. Both times the officer was informed by Forgett’s wife that he was not at home. Saturday morning when he called Constable Boswell demanded that the door be opened under penalty of breaking it down and gained an entrance, and then he heard a whispered conversation inside. Divining that his man was in hiding, Boswell insisted on the door being opened and there he found Forgett on a bed with numerous quilts and comforts piled on him to hide him from view. He was ordered to arise and feigned sleep, but was rudely shaken and finally said, “Hello.”

Forgett at first tried to put the officer off by saying he would come down town later, but Boswell would not stand for that, and brought his man to the court.

Justice of the Peace Atchinson released Forgett on his own recognizance to give him an opportunity to raise money.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 17, 1907

Prisoner Essays Insanity When Deprived of his “Dope”

Joseph Forgett, a man sent over to the county jail yesterday for thirty days by Justice Atchinson found himself deprived of his “dope” at the jail last night, and he set up a howl and evinced insanity. His shouts were echoed by those of other prisoners and iron cell doors were rattled. The noise was heard for blocks and people hurried to see what had happened. The noise was soon silenced, however. Forgett’s wife also came to the jail stating that she had nothing to eat and nowhere to exist in warmth.

– Press Democrat, January 23, 1907


Joseph Forgett is again in the toils of the law. This time he is alleged to have stolen a sack of dried apples weighing more than fifty pounds, and when the warrant was sworn to for his arrest he was charged with a prior conviction. The officers claim to have information as to where Forgett sold the apples and feel certain of convicting him. Justice Atchinson set the case for hearing Friday and fixed the man’s bond at $300 cash, or $500 personal bonds. Forgett is unable to give bonds and is in custody of Sheriff Jack Smith pending his examination.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 27, 1907


Joseph Forgett will spend the coming eleven months in the county jail. This was the judgment pronounced by Justice Atchinson Friday afternoon. It was understood that Forgett wanted a sentence of sufficient duration to enable him to break off the morphine habit. During this time he will be kept away from the drug and it is his intention when given his liberty next year to refrain from its use. He entered a plea of guilty to charges of petty larceny and obtaining money under false pretenses.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 29, 1907

The unsightly mud hole on Sebastopol avenue near the California Northwestern depot is soon to be a thing of the past. At the council meeting Tuesday evening the matter was taken up and decided upon a proposition made by Messrs. L. B. Henry and Cummings, who have secured an injunction against the city to prevent certain street work being done on Sebastopol avenue.

In consultation with Street Commissioner Decker recently Messrs. Henry and Cummings proposed that if the [illegible microfilm] grade Boyd street from Sebastopol avenue to the slough, a distance of 260 feet, they would give the city fourteen feet in front of their property. This will permit of the widening [sic] of Sebastopol avenue and the construction of a new sidewalk on the south side of that thoroughfare.

When the work has been completed and the street widened there will be ample room for teams to pass when electric cars are being operated. This will be good news to the people of that section of the city and to all who had to traverse that section. For some time past Sebastopol avenue has been almost impassable because of the mud holes there and under this proposal this will be remedied.

The council agreed to accept the suggestion and City Attorney Geary and Street Commissioner Decker were authorized to accept the proposed agreement, and when a deed has been given to the fourteen feet a resolution to grade and gravel Boyd street will be passed by the council. The hearing of the injunction suit brought against the city will be called Thursday and this will settle the matter without the necessity of the courts.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 23, 1907

The mud hole on Sebastopol Avenue has been causing all kinds of trouble lately. Thursday a wagon heavily laden with eggs was en route to the cold storage plant of the National Ice Company, and became stuck in the mud hole. The efforts of the team were unavailing, and the wagon could not be moved. Another express wagon was drawn up alongside the mire and two-thirds of the load transferred, and the team was then able to move the load of eggs. Recently an automobile became stuck in the mud there and other vehicles have mired down.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 8, 1907

Disgraceful Condition of Highway on Sebastopol Avenue Can Now Be Remedied

The disgraceful condition of the roadway on Sebastopol avenue, near the railroad crossing, is at last going to be remedied. The injunction suit which has held back the repair of the road for many months will be dismissed and at once and the property owners, Messrs. Cummings and Henry, have given deeds to the city to a strip of land in front of their property, in return for which the city will repair the street, grade and put down sidewalks, etc., and grade Boyd street so that a proper drainage for surface water will be provided. An agreement to this effect was reached and a resolution adopted at last night’s council meeting. Colonel L. W. Julliard, representing the Henry and Cummings interest, told City Attorney that he would dismiss the suit today.

– Press Democrat, April 3, 1907


Last Sunday a party of four members of the French colony in San Francisco came up to Sonoma to spend the day and do a little hunting. They killed a number of robins and one of their number in addition broke the ordinance regarding the discharging of firearms on the county road. The men were arrested and haled before Justice J. B. Small. They paid fines that aggregated sixty dollars and went on their way home to San Francisco hardly feeling as if the sport they had enjoyed had been worth the while.

– Press Democrat, January 24, 1907
New Game Bill Has Passed Senate And Will be Law

A bill has passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly for the protection of the medow lark and robin. It makes the killing of these or the robbing of their nests a felony. The entire section to cover this question is as follows:

637a. Every person who, in the state of California, shall at any time, hurt, hoot, shoot at, pursue, take, kill, or destroy, buy, sell, give away or have in his possession…

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 22, 1907

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Bare-handed salmon fishing in Santa Rosa creek sounds amazing until you consider the Russian River was so thick with Salmon a year earlier that they were fishing with pitchforks.


Salmon are running in Santa Rosa creek, and yesterday several beauties were caught by citizens. In consequence several nice suppers were enjoyed last night.

Walter C. Nolan, the Sonoma school principal, waded into the creek near the electric railroad bridge and caught a fine fish with his hands and soon after boarded the electric car for Forestville with his finny prize.

After this announcement fishing should be general in Santa Rosa creek today and woe betide any salmon that come up the stream.

– Press Democrat, December 29, 1906

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An important lesson to remember when reading the old newspapers: all of your presumptions are probably wrong. Even the simplest news items may have a complex backstory mostly forgotten today, as is the case here. I had noticed that it was sometimes reported that boys were arrested for shooting robins, but hadn’t thought the stories noteworthy — surely the editor was filling column space on a slow day, or maybe throwing out a little civics lesson, like the Press Democrat’s stern warnings over the downtown orange peel menace. I was wrong; there was far more to the story than Peck’s Bad Boy plonking away at birds with his Daisy air rifle for the fun of it. Little Sammy Shooter might have been working for a smuggling ring in violation of federal law — or might have been seeking to feed his family.

In the 19th century, America was of three minds about robins. Farmers, particularly in the south where the birds winter, considered them a pest bird like the crow, with flocks of hundreds swooping down to strip fruit trees bare. Northeners also lost berries and fruit (cherries in particular), but were more sentimental about robins, waxing about their cheery songs and that their appearances heralded the coming of spring. Both Yanks and Johnny Reb, however, agreed that the birds were delicious.

An 1883 ag report told farmers, “the robin is eminently a game bird, and makes the most delicate and delicious eating known, almost. If, therefore, you beg the question, kill a mess for a savory pot-pie at such time as when they are in the height of their plunder, you can accomplish your purpose, and can say conscientiously that you have not violated any law for the good of the community.” And even Audubon (one of his American Robin watercolors seen at right) wrote in 1841 about the joys of cooking robins:

“In all the southern states…their presence is productive of a sort of jubilee among the gunners, and the havoc made among them with bows and arrows, blowpipes, guns, and traps of different sorts, is wonderful. Every gunner brings them home by bagsful, and the markets are supplied with them at a very cheap rate. Several persons may at this season stand round the foot of a tree loaded with berries, and shoot the greater part of the day, so fast do the flocks of Robins succeed each other. They are then fat and juicy, and afford excellent eating.”

Under pressure from the new conservation movement, turn of the century attitudes and laws began to change. The small fruit and berry crops aside, it was recognized that robins were pretty useful birds; the rest of the year they mostly ate weed seeds and harmful insects, particularly the dreaded army worm. The 1900 Lacey Act was a landmark federal law to beef up protection of wild birds, and nearly two decades later, the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act finally put strict limits on killing birds like the robin.

Shamefully, some conservationists played race, regional, and class cards to drum up support for protection. A 1902 League of American Sportsmen author wrote, “no Northern man thinks of shooting a robin at any time. Yet in the South, white man and negro alike slaughter these innocent and beautiful birds at every opportunity.” And although robin pot pie was a favorite dish throughout the south, the 1912 National Conservation Congress sensationalized it as ethnic threat:

How many people in the North know that the negroes and poor whites of the South annually slaughter millions of valuable insect-eating birds for food? Around Avery Island, Louisiana, during the robin season (in January when the berries are ripe), Mr. B. A. Mcllhenny says that during ten days or two weeks, at least 10,000 robins are each day slaughtered for the pot. “Every negro man and boy who can raise a gun is after them!”

But even though California had officially removed robins as a game bird in 1897, that didn’t stop hunters with a taste for robin pie. A letter from an ornithological club in Santa Cruz complained bitterly that the law was useless as long as those hicks around San Jose couldn’t control their appetites: “we cannot protect birds in this county when they can shoot across the line from the other county into ours…[as long as] that last relic of barbarism, robin pot-pie, is still existent in some households where they choose to believe that no protective ordinance was ever passed.”

Robin hunting continued to be an issue for years, with seven states — Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Maryland — keeping the robin legally as a game bird. Pennsylvania continued to allow robins to be killed between May and July into the 1920s “to protect cherries and other small fruits,” although the permit allowed for the birds to be used for “food purposes.”

Amazingly, no specific recipe for robin pot pie currently could be found on the Internet (yes, I also searched for variant spellings of “robin pot-pie”, “robin potpie”, and “robin pie”). Hints were found that it could have been similar to this 1897 blackbird pie, this 1886 pigeon pie, or this 1906 “pie of small birds.” Those recipes are essentially all meat baked in a crust; if this really was a food for the poorest people, it’s likely other ingredients were added to stretch out the meat, and was probably more similar to this 1874 cottage pie recipe, heavy with mashed potatoes and onions. But it’s also noteworthy that many sources mention robin pie as a favorite dish of young people; I wonder if shooting robins became a means of introducing children to the culture of hunting for food, with mommy serving their kill in a meat-heavy dish as a reward.

Finally: note below the inspector who seized the smuggled birds was named Vogelsang (“bird song”).

(Story update available here)

Shipped Birds to San Francisco Under Brand of Dried Apples

A box of robins which had been shipped from Sebastopol to San Francisco by D. Cassassa, was seized by Chief Deputy Charles A. Vogelsang in San Francisco Saturday morning. The shipping tag declared the contents of the box to have been dried apples, and as such the railroad had given a special fruit rate to the shipper. The tag contained the name of D. Cassassa as the shipper.

There were about half a hundred robins in the box, and they were consigned to Lemoine & Co. They arrived in the metropolis about 11 o’clock Saturday morning, and within an hour they had been confiscated.

Deputy State Fish and Game Commissioner Ernest Schaeffle of San Francisco was sent to this city to arrest the offender, and to prosecute the case before the court. The deputy spent Sunday in Sebastopol and Forestville, but was unable to locate Cassassa, who is believed to be in San Francisco.

It is not believed that Cassassa shipped the robins to the city for sale, but that he intended to follow them and have a feast in one of the French restaurants of that city. The robins are considered the finest of the small game birds by the French people, and it is probable that Cassassa had planned a treat for his friends, which has been spoiled by the vigilance of the officers. The law expressly forbids the shipment of robins, and from the fact that the box was labeled as dried apples, it is apparent that the shipper was aware that the law was being violated.

A young son of Mr. Cassassa appeared before the court this afternoon, but nothing was done ending his appearance late this afternoon. The youth promised to return after schol this afternoon.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 15, 1906

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