The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume VII, Number 1, Pages 20-24
Winter, 1982

Good Samaritans: Walla Walla Assistance to San Francisco Earthquake Victims

By Zola Irwin

Zola Invin is a free lance writer who lives in Spokane.

San Francisco after the earthquake.

Used with permission, California Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey

On April 18, 1906, the shocking headlines, FRISCO DISASTER STILL GROWS, greeted the readers of the Walla Walla Evening Statesman. The earthquake and the fire that followed completely destroyed San Francisco. With water mains broken and many fire engines demolished, the city burned for three days. The surrounding cities of San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Berkeley were also destroyed. Many buildings at Stanford University were shaken to rubble, and the United States SubTreasury had only well guarded vaults to tell where it had stood. It was well guarded because the vaults contained 30 million dollars. The United States mint was the only building left standing in its area.

Dramatic headlines such as these stirred relief efforts

Used with permission, California Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey

The Federal government responded with appropriations of money and supplies and the War Department ordered troops sent to help maintain order. The final statistics of the earthquake recorded between 400 and 500 people killed and 250 to 300 million dollars in property loss.

The news of the calamity brought immediate response from the citizens of Walla Walla and surrounding communities. Many of them had friends and relatives living or visiting there. They were simply shocked into action.

At this time Walla Walla was a city of about 20,000 people, including a small colony of Chinese who had settled there after the railroads had been completed. The city had experienced the usual political squabbles and differences but for a time the people were completely united in their efforts to help the sufferers of the catastrophe.

The morning after the earthquake the townspeople started to work. Gilbert Hunt, the mayor of Walla Walla, and F. W. Kaser, the president of the Commercial Club, sent the following telegram to Governor Pardee of California: "As mayor of the city of Walla Walla and the President of the Commercial Club. we desire to offer our good offices in rendering any assistance possible to the stricken cities of your state."

This was followed by an announcement by President Kaser, of a relief committee consisting of F. S. Dement, H. H. Turner, W. P. McKean, Sidney Menkus, and W. H. Kirkman. The response to the announcement was quick and generous. By Friday, April 20, the following notice appeared in the Evening Statesman:
The funds for the relief of the earthquake victims are growing so rapidly that the committee will not make an active canvas for funds but will receive contributions at the following places: Dement Bros., Baker Boyer National Bank, and the Davis-Kaser Company.
F. W. Kaser, Chairman
F. S. Dement
H. H. Turner
W. P. McKean
Sidney Menkus
W. H. Kirkman

Friday morning Gilbert Hunt called a meeting of the city council and they adopted, without hesitation, a resolution to set aside $1,000 of city funds for relief purposes.

Attorney C. M. Rader (or possibly his wife) suggested the housewives of the city bake bread to send to the victims of the disaster. A committee of women met in the law office of Rader and King and operation "Bread-Bake" was under way.

Manager Glafke offered the services of the Glafke Company to transport food and clothing free of charge to the railway station.
T. J. Ennis of the Knights of Columbus and J. J. Schiffner of the Elks lodge headed a committee to make arrangements for a benefit baseball game between the two lodge teams to be played on Monday, April 23.

The Reverend Morton Gregory of the First Christian Church announced a special collection for relief would be taken at the morning service the following Sunday.

Gilbert Hunt's relief committee and the relief committee from the Commercial Club met later in the day with County Commissioners Struthers and McCaw, and an appropriation of $5,000 of county funds were added to the city relief fund. With many flour mills in the county, the committees and the commissioners decided to use the $6,000 to buy flour to send to the needy cities. Orders for one carload each were placed with the following mills: Dement Brothers, Scholl Brothers, Coyle and Campbell, all of Walla Walla and the Portland Flouring Mills of Prescott, the Preston-Parton Milling Company at Waitsburg and the Acme Mill at Lamar. These mills agreed to sell the flour at cost of production. The city of Waitsburg, wanting to do their share, paid for a second carload of flour from the Preston-Parton Mill.

Committee members contacted Mr. Dibble, the freight agent of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, and he immediately ordered cars to be sent to the different mills so they could be loaded that afternoon.

Meanwhile one of the committee members notified Mayor Schmitz of San Francisco the flour was on its way and was consigned to him.

Four cars of flour left Walla Walla at 10:45 that night. The mills at Prescott and Lamar shipped theirs the next day. The W. and C. R. Railway offered to transport the Lamar car free to the O. R. and N. tracks at Wallula.

The women of the "Bread-Bake" committee placed an advertisement in the Evening Statesman that same night. It read:
Walla Walla expects every housewife to do her duty. Thousands of San Francisco men, women, and children are suffering for the necessaries of life. Quick action alone will relieve these awful conditions. You are willing to do your part and do it at once. We know you are. Something ready to eat is most needed. All of us can bake bread and good bread too, and if we do make one bad batch our individual names won't be on each loaf. The Commercial Club asks us to contribute a carload of bread. The bakers of this city and College Place will furnish 3000 loaves. Set your bread at once, bake Saturday morning. Bread will arrive fresh. Any other class of cooked or canned food solicited. Raise no objection. Act. The following collecting depots suggested.
Dement Bros. Office Walla Walla
Mrs. E. A. Knight 883 Whitman St.
Mrs. J. W. Cookerly 415 E. Alder St.
Mrs. Olive T. Cornwell 328 Sumach St.
Mrs. Steve Ringhoffer Elm St.
Mrs. C. M. Rader 237 Jones St.
Mrs. Prof. O. S. Jones 6 Whitman St.
Mrs. A. J. Gillis 10 N. Madison St.
Mrs. H. H. Hungate 202 N. Second St.
Mrs. R. P. Reynolds 906 W. Poplar St.
Mrs. W. M. Williams 358 Fourth St.

Wagons will collect from the above depots
Committee: Mrs. C. M. Rader Mrs. W. M. Williams Mrs. E. A. Knight Mrs. J. W. Cookerly

As early as 8 o'clock the next morning the advertisement was bringing results. The bread started arriving from every corner of the city, sometimes brought by the women who baked it. The biggest rush came when the delivery wagons began arriving from the designated points around the city. By noon thousands of loaves of bread and other food stuffs were piled high in the Dement Brothers' office.

Mrs. J. M. Hill was in charge of packing the bread and spent all day supervising the work. The loaves were first wrapped in brown paper then packed together in huge boxes. As soon as a box was filled, it was taken to the depot and placed in a refrigerator car.

Canned goods, eggs, potatoes, and other foods were brought to the central point and were packed by Oscar Brunton and sent to the depot.

The response from the community was a surprise to the committee members. Mr. Kaser said, "I never saw such a spontaneous response to alleviate suffering as there has been in the past two days. The good housewives and others who have contributed to the fund have our sincere thanks." Mr. Rader, in whose office the idea of baking bread started, also praised the women saying, "It is great, and the women of Walla Walla are deserving of the highest praise."

The women had a right to feel proud. The bread they baked plus the loaves from the bakeries totaled 14,000 loaves. No monetary value was placed on the carload of food, but at that time bread was selling in San Francisco for $1.50 a loaf, a cracker was 10¢ and a glass of water 5¢, with sardines going for $3.50 a box.


San Francisco city center ablaze

Used with permission, California Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey

The carload of bread and other foods left the Walla Walla station that night and arrived in Portland at 8:00 Sunday morning. Mr. Buckley, the general superintendent of the Southern Pacific line held up the train twenty minutes so the car of bread could be transferred. It continued on its way at 8:30 and arrived in San Francisco early Monday morning.

On April 21, Gilbert Hunt and F. W. Kaser received a telegram from Governor Pardee which stated:
Your kind message received. Many thousands are rendered homeless and destitute in Frisco by ravages of fire. Three fourths of the city is destroyed. They will need much help.
By this time help was on its way.

Robert Burns, general agent of the O. R. and N. Railway at Walla Walla received a telegram on Sunday morning from J. F. O'Brien, the VicePresident of the Harriman lines. He stated it was necessary to continue helping the victims of the disaster and they would continue to send food and clothing free of charge on their lines. By Tuesday the Harriman system had sent out of Portland 243 carloads of supplies. The people of Portland expressed great praise for the contributions made by the citizens of Walla Walla and the surrounding communities.

Colonel Goodman, Commander at Fort Walla Walla, through orders from Secretary of War, Taft, sent a carload of tents and other supplies. To assist in keeping order fifty-five enlisted men and an officer of Troop C and D of the 14th Cavalry left for Portland Tuesday night, April 24. The O. R. and N. Railway provided a tourist sleeper for use of the soldiers. At Wallula they were joined by two companies of infantry from Fort Wright in Spokane.

Walla Walla continued to buzz with activity. The women collected more than 4,000 items of clothing, sheets, towels, and pillow cases and sent them directly to the needy. Even the schools participated. At Sharpstein School the seventh and eighth grade girls made thirty-five dresses in their sewing class and turned them over to the relief committee.

The Keylor Grand Theatre was the site of a benefit performance to raise funds. The play A Fight for Honor, under the direction of Mrs. Edgar Fischer, was given. Music was furnished by Miss Paddock, Guy Turner, Mr. Richardson, Herbert Foster, Oliver J. Eckhard, Harry Babb, Isabelle R. Perry, Blanche Martin, and Georgia A. Nichols of the Eckhart Company. The theatre was comfortably filled, and the total receipts were $198 with $45 for expenses of the Lyceum Company.

The ball game played on Monday between the Elks team and the Knights of Columbus team drew a big crowd. All the stores were closed at 4 o'clock and hundreds of people followed the parade led by the Elks, the Knights of Columbus, and the 14th Cavalary Band out to the ball park. It was the noisiest game of the season with rooters for both sides out in force. An estimated $600 was raised.

Other lodges also contributed to the relief fund. The Maccabees gave $SO, Columbia Lodge Number 8, Knights of Pythias gave $50, the Lincoln Post GAR Number 15 gave $15, and the Tribe of Redmen Lodge sent several hundred dollars directly to the San Francisco lodge.

The Chinese community helped too. They raised $400 and sent it to help their country men in need. Of the total amount, $250 was contributed by Chinese in town and the remainder by local gardeners at the outskirts of the city.

Harry Usher, the local manager of the Postal Telegraph Company received an urgent request to help the destitute telegraph operators of the San Francisco region. It was estimated there were 300 operators in dire circumstances.

By this time the people of Walla Walla were receiving messages from friends and relatives in the stricken city and were relieved to learn they were safe and unharmed.

On Monday, April 23, the railway lines sent this communique to the relief committee: "Please notify all your people who are furnishing supplies that they are being received in good shape and are all distributed to the needy through the Army quartermaster department. The northwest is doing remarkably well in the emergency."

The committee decided not to send more provisions until they heard from Mayor Schmitz of San Francisco, and by Wednesday he informed them that food and supplies seemed sufficient but there was still need for funds to assist toward reorganization leading to the resumption of business. They sent all the money remaining in the fund. It wasn't until the 23rd of May that the banks in San Francisco were reopened.

By the first part of May the townspeople learned that at least some of the bread had been distributed in Santa Rosa as two letters came from there. One was sent to Mr. M. C. McGrew, owner of a grocery store. The writer had obtained the address from the store sack in which the bread had been packed. The letter said, "My loaf was home made and I imagined the grand good woman as she kneaded the bread, whispering prayers for stricken people." It was signed Mrs. M. J. Murphy. Alice McInnes, a telegraph operator in Santa Rosa, wrote to Mrs. Hunt, wife of Gilbert Hunt. She expressed her gratitude and stated, "Some of the bread from Walla Walla has just been left in our office and we found your card. To show our appreciation of your kindness I write to you. You will never know the value of bread until your community has suffered as ours has."

On June 1, H. H. Turner gave the final report of the relief committee to the Board of Directors of the Commercial Club. He stated the total fund for relief was $10,374.82, which did not include the 14,000 loaves of bread nor the 4,000 items of clothing and linens that were sent. Free services had been given by the draymen, the Western Union Telegraph Company, the O. R. and N. Railway Company, the Northern Pacific and the Southern Pacific Railway Companies. Local railway officials and freight clerks gave freely of their time, as well as a long list of others. He stated that the flour purchased was of the best grade and was bought at cost. His correspondence by telegram and letter with Mayor Schmitz had resulted in the suggestion of sending money instead of provisions so $5,271.91 was shipped in currency by express to James D. Phelan, chairman of the finance committee in San Francisco. Mr. Turner gave a financial statement listing the 144 contributors to the fund, both businesses and individuals, and the amount of each contribution, the latter ranging from $1,000 to 25¢. He concluded his report with the disbursements he had made up to April 1906.

Looking back, after seventy-five years, on the unified efforts of the people of the Pacific Northwest and especially those of Walla Walla, in answering those cries for help it seems they all deserve the title of "Good Samaritans."