Turning Stones - George McKale


Dusty documents and drowsy alcaldes

They came with guns and the authority of the law.  They didn’t have to take aim at anybody that warm balmy day in September.  They rode in silently, but when they left, the horses were galloping in unison, pulling the loaded wagon past Sonoma’s Plaza and furiously making their way to Santa Rosa and up to Carrillo’s Adobe. The town folk knew it was going to happen, but the manner in which it occurred left a stale taste in the mouth of all Sonomans.

When California became a state in 1850, the county seat was located in our fine city.  Marianno Vallejo was elected as a member of the first session of the State Senate.  The politicos in Santa Rosa had their eyes on the county seat for some time and in 1854, a bill passed allowing the decision to be voted upon by the people of the county.  Santa Rosans immediately went to work lobbying for their town.

Thompson’s 1877 “Historical and Descriptive Sketch of Sonoma County, California” offers some nice language about the whole affair. “The Santa Rosans projected a grand barbeque at the proposed county seat on the Fourth of July. It was a master stroke of policy — the people came and saw and were conquered by the beauty of the place and the hospitality of the people, who on that occasion, killed the fatted calf, and invited to the feast the rich and poor, the lame, the halt and the blind, in fact, everybody who had, or could influence or control, a vote.”

It was one simple word that ignited the countryside, encouraging folks from all parts of the county to descent upon Santa Rosa’s free extravaganza, “PARTY”, and they came! Over 500 people arrived to enjoy the unparalleled feast.

“The smoke of the sacrifice of the whole sheep and huge quarters of beef ascended to heaven freighted with prayers of the Santa Rosans to dispose the hearts and ballots of the people in their favor, and, like the pious Greeks of old, on similar occasions, when the smoke had ceased to ascend, and the offering was cooked to a turn, they partook of the sacrificial meat-the incense of which had tickled their nostrils, whetting at the same time their appetites and their devotions.”

On September 6, 1854, an election took place to determine which city would be the county seat.  By a vote of 716 to 563, Santa Rosa prevailed prompting a two-day long celebration.  Supervisor S. L. Fowler moved that the archives of documents residing in the southern city of Sonoma be removed and brought to the new county seat on September 22, 1854.

“On the day appointed, Jim Williamson, with a four horse team and wagon, accompanied by Horace Martin and others, went down to Sonoma, captured and brought up the archives, amid dire threats of injunction and violence from the Sonoma people, who saw, with no little chagrin, the county seat slip through their fingers. The Santa Rosans had the law, and would not have hesitated to use all the force necessary to get that, as it was, they captured the archives by strategy, and the dry and dusty documents of former drowsy old alcaldes were whirled over the road as fast as Jim Williamson’s four-in-hand could take them to the new capital…”

So, what’s the moral of the story?  What can hopeful politicians learn from history? Provide the people with a hind-quarter and a fine cabernet, and you’ll get all the votes you need. Looking forward to the next party.

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