With another 2016 Presidential nominees’ debate scheduled for this evening, it seems only appropriate to focus on some unexpected political stories from Napa County’s past. The three featured historical accounts were gleaned from the local newspapers. These unusual pieces from back in the day reveal the details about the aftermath of a political fund raiser gone wrong, vexing election results and a candidate’s odd antics.
Beginning with the latter, a late June 1890 Napa Weekly Register printed an article about the behavior of a Mendocino County man who claimed to be a candidate. It also reported the consequences of his actions. “One John Meagher created quite an excitement on the streets of Santa Rosa last Saturday evening,” The Register continued, “While on the streets he waved his hands and hat in the air like a campaign orator. He then descended, ran into a prominent hotel and registered, then ran out again and was about to drive off when he was stopped by officers. He talked wildly, said he had been in a mad-house several times, and gave his occupation as a politician.”
Following his arrest and temporary incarceration, Meagher was given a psychological examination and evaluation. The attending Sonoma County physician “found that his mind is hopelessly gone and ordered he be sent to the Napa Asylum (State Hospital) ...” said the 1890 Register.
The next political story was printed in the same late June 1890 Register edition. According to the newspaper, an election for a Pope Valley school board trustee post created considerable frustration for both the politicians and their constituents—twice.
The two candidates vying for that post were Thomas Mast and M.W. Thomas. Apparently, as reported by the newspaper, their political appeal was equally divided among the voters of Pope Valley. This equity resulted in a tie vote. Then, in accordance with the law, a second election was held a few days later to resolve the tie. However, it also resulted in a tie.
The Register continued, “To settle the matter the interested parties and their friends conferred together and agreed to refer the matter to (Napa) County (School) Superintendent Huskey.” However, while researching the legal precedence on such matters, Huskey discovered he had “no power to appoint a trustee in such a case as the law expressly provides that when an election is held which results in a tie vote another shall be taken, and the fact that two tie votes have been cast does not alter the matter.”
The 1890 Register added, “Another election will be held.” Unfortunately, the results of that third and, hopefully, final election for a Pope Valley school board trustee post were either placed in some obscure corner of the newspaper or never published.
The last local political story occurred about a quarter of a century later. In early 1914 the Napa Weekly Journal printed an article titled, “Gives His Side of It.” This article was actually a letter to the editor written and submitted by Albert Rosel of the Napa area.
He wrote, “There has been a good deal said in the Napa papers about my place in Coombsville and myself.” Rosel continued by declaring himself to be a hardworking family man who was politically affiliated with the Socialist party.
According to his letter, the local Socialist party chapter he belonged to frequently hosted picnics as fund raisers. “And at one of our meetings we agreed to have a picnic at my place,” wrote Rosel. “One comrade donated beer, one cider, another meats, others breads and cakes. And we invited our Vallejo comrades and their friends. We all had a good time, except that some outsiders came, and among them a man by the name of Lawrence, a prize fighter.”
Rosel continued, “These men had been drinking before they reached our picnic. And it was not long after their arrival that Lawrence started a fight.” When the local law showed up one of Rosel’s fellow Socialists was mistakenly implicated in the disturbance. Rosel added, “Jim Clark was arrested, but when the case came up in court, it was thrown out.”
Rosel was quite disenchanted, even bitter, about the local judicial system and its players. He wrote of how the District Attorney had sat with his feet on the table during the entire proceedings. Rosel did stray a bit more from his main point before returning to it—defending his reputation as well as that of the Socialists’ picnic and dance.
Apparently, Rosel had been accused of selling liquor without a license and for his own profit. He continued by answering those charges. “Now, the proceeds of the picnic went to the Napa Socialists Local, as they do at all our Socialist picnics. We have beer there, as they do at nearly all local lodge or (political) party picnics. And anyone who says I sell liquor for my own benefit is lying. As for the dances, we give clean dances, no liquor or ragging (Rag or Jazz style music or dancing) is allowed.”
Rosel went on to say he felt he had been given a raw deal and the county of Napa had wasted too much time and money on the matter. In conclusion, Rosel stated, “I think we need some new officials.”
While these three historical accounts are only a few of the many and varied local political stories, they have provided unique and interesting insights into Napa County’s past.