Subscribe
4/13/2006: 6: LASTING MEMORIES: Healdsburg resident Clarence ''Barney'' Barnard, 106, recalls the 1906 quake in his home on March 22. The log cabin home off Skaggs Spring Road where the Barnards lived is still standing. PC: 3 of 3/Earthquake Special Section--- Healdsburg resident Barney Barnard, 106, recalls the 1906 earthquake in his home on March 22, 2006. photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat.

CLARENCE H. 'BARNEY' BARNARD: Anonymously spoke out about role in notorious 1920 Santa Rosa lynching

A remarkable man who may have been the last survivor of Sonoma County's "Wild West" era is dead at age 108.

Clarence H. "Barney" Barnard, born in a farmhouse on the shoulder of Fitch Mountain and raised in a log cabin at the upper end of the Dry Creek Valley, died Sunday at his Healdsburg home.

Barnard was the last of a generation of north county pioneers whose families crossed the plains before the Civil War, who -- as he liked to tell it -- knew the county when the streams were filled with fish and the forests with game, when prunes made more money than grapes, when "a dollar was worth a dollar" and a man's word was his bond.

Barnard also was the guardian of an 88-year- old secret involving frontier justice. As the last living member of an organized band that hanged a trio of San Francisco outlaws in 1920, Barnard was the one who spoke out, anonymously, to tell the truth about the infamous Santa Rosa incident that was the second-to-the-last lynching in the West.

In 1985, when a column appeared in The Press Democrat recounting the story of the lynching as told in the newspapers of the time, Barnard came forward because, he said, after 65 years, "I felt I had an obligation to set the record straight."

The shooting of Sonoma County Sheriff Jim Petray and two San Francisco police detectives in a little house on Seventh Street behind the Toscano Hotel (later Guidotti's, then Michelle's, now Stark's Steak House) was big news far beyond the Bay Area and Northern California.

The men involved, members of San Francisco's notorious Howard Street Gang, were wanted for kidnapping and rape and had come to Santa Rosa to hide out. Tipped off to their whereabouts, the San Francisco detectives, with the local sheriff, went into the house to take them prisoner. One of the men had a gun. He killed all three lawmen.

Five days later, the trio was taken from the county jail to Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery and hanged.

The stories in the local papers indicated the "mob" that stormed the jail was comprised of San Francisco policemen avenging the death of the two detectives.

What Barnard revealed was that it wasn't a mob at all, but a carefully selected and disciplined band of vigilantes with a "captain" who was a World War I veteran.

They were all from Healdsburg. And they were all friends of "Sunny Jim" Petray. Barnard, whose father also was part of the band of 30, was the youngest, at age 20.

No one ever was charged with the deaths of the three men. A coroner's jury, convened the next morning, returned a verdict before noon of "death by persons unknown."

A photo of the men, clad in long underwear and hanging from a tree limb, was widely distributed in California and the West.

In Santa Rosa, the incident was considered by some to be a warning to lawbreakers and to others it was seen as a primitive and violent act.

"I've often wondered if I did the right thing," Barnard said at the time of his interview. "But you know, I just can't believe it was wrong. Jim Petray was a wonderful man. Everybody loved him. Nobody spoke against it. Ninety-five percent of the people were in favor after it happened.

"Later, lots of people said they were there, were part of the group, people that weren't there at all."

At the time of the interview, Barnard requested anonymity. A full story of the lynching is told in the book, "Santa Rosa, a 20th Century Town," but Barnard's name does not appear.

A taped interview, which was to be opened only after his death, is still locked in a vault at the Sonoma County Library.

But, as time passed, he grew more talkative about the 1920 episode, telling close friends, and occasionally hinting to strangers that he had been involved.

Proud of his reputation as a true "mountain man," Barnard was sought out by reporters and videographers who eagerly recorded his tales of the earlier days, when Sonoma County was "a natural paradise" and "people used common sense to solve their problems."

Barnard was proud to talk about shooting his last buck and wild hog the year that he turned 95. Although his eyesight faded in recent years from macular degeneration, his mind was keen and his memory clear.

His account of the 1906 earthquake is a vivid tale of an exciting time for a 6-year-old sleeping in a log cabin his father, Ben Barnard, had built in the Flat Ridge area off Skaggs Springs Road.

"The country was full of homesteaders in those days," he said. "My dad built the cabin above Buckeye Creek which has headwaters on Mount Tom."

He was in bed when the earthquake struck.

"The cabin had 40-foot logs as the foundation. It moved like waves. I could see the floor in the front room rise up about six inches or a foot and go down, moving . . ."

"I remember so well," he said, "because I was scared to death! My God, the noise that log cabin made! It was put together with pins and there were all different noises, groans and rumbles and squeaks."

His father's cabin is still standing, converted to a barn on the Lewers Ranch.

He was the only son of Benjamin Franklin Barnard, who was born in Yountville, and Margaret Snider Barnard, born in Sherwood Valley in Mendocino County to a family that had crossed the plains to California.

He was married for 50 years to Faye Barnard, who died in 1973, and later to his longtime friend, the late Maude Robbins.

He is survived by his daughter, Marjorie Barnard of San Jose; and his sisters, Ruth Newman of Pebble Beach, who is 106, and Genevieve Gully of Pleasanton, who is 100.

He was the father of the late Clarence Barnard Jr. and the brother of the late Amee Jennings and Juanita Baumeister.

He is also survived by his caregiver of 11 years, Joyce Dennis.

Barnard served as a lieutenant in the California State Guard during World War II. He was an 87-year member of the Odd Fellows Lodge and a 78-year member of the Masonic Lodge. He also was a member of the board of directors of the Sunsweet Prune Association in Healdsburg and served on the board of the Potter Valley Irrigation District.

A memorial to celebrate Barnard's life will be held Feb. 16 at a time and place to be determined. Inurnment will be private at Oak Mound Cemetery in Healdsburg, with Daniels Chapel of the Roses handling the arrangements.

Contributions may be made in his name to a favorite charity.

You can reach Gaye LeBaron by e-mail at gaye.lebaron@

pressdemocrat.com.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine