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Claims against the Army and the Marine Corps, for confiscation and destruction of liquor immediately after the earthquake, created a controversy that pitted small liquor store owners against the military might of the United States, and dragged on until the War Department claimed that the United States was not responsible for the unauthorized acts of its agents, and rejected all liquor claims.

The initial order for confiscation of liquor was issued during the fire by Col. Charles Morris after he established his military district headquarters in Pacific Heights.

HEADQUARTERS 2000 Broadway
San Francisco, California,

General Orders No. 1)
                       Par. 1)
All liquor, except beer, shall be immediately seized and poured into the gutter of the ground so that it cannot be imbibed. The Commanding Officers shall send details of men under Commissioned Officers for this purpose to places where liquor can be found.

No property except bottles and casks containing this liquor shall be destroyed.

By order of Colonel Morris,

(signed) F. Burgess,
Capt. Art'y.

Major-General A.W. Greely was inundated with claims for the seizure and confiscation of private property. Demands for payment had also gone to Members of Congress, the War Department, President Roosevelt, and the San Francisco Red Cross and Relief Committee. Greely began an investigation, and initally suspected that the Marine Corps was responsible for this embarassment, as noted in this stiff, formal, letter to the commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard.
San Francisco, California,

June 25, 1906.

The Commandant,
Mare Island Navy Yard,
Mare Island, Cal.


In connection with the destruction of liquor by Lieut. S.W. Brewster, U.S. Marine Corps, that officer states under date of June 18th, as follows:

"the saloon of Mr. R. G. Schoder, corner Clay and Fillmore Streets, was not opened forcibly, but the proprietor opened the place and was there while the liquor was being destroyed. As far as I know no liquor was sold or given away at this place. Liquor was destroyed in at least thirty saloons by men under my orders in the district bounded by Union, Pine, Devisadero and Van Ness Streets, but I could not state just what saloons were entered and liquor destroyed, without a visit to the city. In destroying liquor I have orders that no property outside of liquor be destroyed, and I have no knowledge of any other property being destroyed."
It is very much to be regretted that in destroying private property, Lieutenant Brewster made no record as to saloons entered by him nor any other general data which might be of value to the United States or to the owner in case of litigation.

It is unfortunate that Lieutenant Brewster did not immediately note this affair while the facts were fresh in his mind and make a report of the facts to his Commanding Officer in setting forth his operations.

However, as no record was made by him, it is asked that he report in writing as to the general conditions obtaining in the saloons entered and that he explicitly state whether any saloon was entered forcibly and as to whether in any saloon or saloons any liquor was being sold. This data would be of at least some general use at this time when the Finance Committee of the Relief and Red Cross Funds is strenuously urged to pay for liquor in certain saloons where it is alleged that the Army and the Marines entered and destroyed the property of private owners under unwarranted conditions.

It is assumed that the data above referred to would have been included in a former report had the correspondence in returning passed through your hands which it does not appear to have done as the indorsement appears as follows: "U.S. Navy Yard, Mare Island, Cal. June 20, 1906. Forward by direction of the Commandant. Chas. J. Pond, Comdr., U.S.N., Aid to Commandant."

Appreciating the courtesy of the Navy in regard to matters and reports of this kind, I am

Yours truly,

As Greely's investigation continued during the summer of 1906, General Funston was asked to respond to General Orders No. 1, issued by Col. Charles Morris of the Artillery Corps.
Presidio of San Francisco, Cal.,
July 16th, 1906

The Military Secretary
Pacific Division.

While there is no doubt that Colonel Morris, in issuing General Orders No. 1 from his headquarters on April 20th, 1906, was acting in good faith and in what he considered the public interests, it is my opinion that a grave error of judgement was committed. On the night of April 19th, during the progress of the fire, I was at Fort Mason and received a telephone message from Colonel Morris, asking if I would authorize the destruction of liquor. I did not go to the telephone myself, but the message was brought to me by some officer whom I cannot now recall. I replied in the affirmative; but took it for granted that Colonel Morris meant liquor that was in the streets or being used or in saloons that were open and it never occurred to me that he would construe my message as indicating that he could break into saloons or groceries and destroy liquor found therein. I was astounded when I learned that he had taken the view that he evidentally did.

Brigadier General,


The liquor claims issue was still not resolved during the summer of 1907, when General Funston responded to a memorandum from the War Department about the claims that were still being filed.
June 13, 1907

This is one of many claims for liquor destroyed during the San Francisco fire, which claims have already been the subject of much correspondence. On the night of April 19 or 20, 1906, while I was in the temporary headquarters which had been estalished at Fort Mason, Colonel Chas. Morris, Artillery Corps, who was in command of the troops in one of the districts into which the city had been divided, telephoned or telegraphed to headquarters that quantities of liquor which had been moved into the streets from buildings about to burn, was being appropriated by both soldiers and civilians and that he feared disorder as a consequence, he asking permission to destroy such liquor. I told him to do so and was astonished to learn a few days later that under the authority thus granted saloons and groceries in the western portion of the city, which was not in immediate danger of destruction, had been broken open and the liquor contained in them destroyed. For some time it was almost impossible to ascertain what officers had taken this totally unjustifiable and unnecessary action, but it finally developed that although some of it had been done by certain officers of the Artillery Corps the most of it was the work of 1st Lieut. Sidney W. Brewster, U.S. Marine Corps, who was on duty in that portion of the city under command of Colonel Morris. It was never intended that stores or saloons should be broken open and the liquor in them destroyed and I have never been able to see any possible excuse for the action taken.

As most of the correspondence on this subject was transacted after I had been relieved by General Greely I am not familar with all its phases and so cannot state whether Lieut. Brewster acted on his own responsibility or as the result of orders received from Colonel Morris and if the latter is the case whether Colonel Morris based his orders on a misunderstanding of my authorization to destroy liquor which was getting into the hands of soldiers and civilians.

For this reason I recommend that this paper be referred to both Colonel Morris and Lieutenant, now Captain, Brewster for remarks.

The men whose stores and saloons were broken open and their goods destroyed, in that portion of the city which was not burned, undoubtedly have been grossly wronged and have a good claim in equity. In my opinion the city of San Francisco shold pay these claims as they arose from well meant, though misdirected, efforts to save the city from disorder during the fire.

Brigadier General,


Colonel Morris responded to Gen. Funston's charges with a scathing and candid report about conditions following the earthquake, and why he felt his "unjustifiable and unnecessary order" was necessary.
July 3, 1907

War Department,
(Thro' Headquarters Dept. of the East.)


In compliance with the 3d indorsement on a letter written by Albert A. Rosenshine, Attorney at Law, San Francisco, requesting reimbursement of P. Boragni for stock of liquor destroyed during San Francisco earthquake, I have the honor to submit the following report.

I ordered the destruction of intoxicating liquor "Wherever it could be found", or in words to that effect; it being, in my judgement, an imperative necessity to do so in order to safeguard the lives of homeless and defenseless men, women, and children.

Rioting and drunkenness by a turbulent element were already rife at places where liquor was procurable, and it was only through prompt and energetic action that such disorders were quelled in their incipiency. As a district commander I was expected and required to preserve order in my district; to do so I was compelled to remove every discovered cause that would logically result in disorder. The police had vanished from the streets. It was a physical impossibility, with the number of soldiers available, to prevent access to liquor by those that would undoubtedly have stolen it. The liquor could not be sold; it could not be given away; it could not be removed to a military reservation or to any place where it would be beyond the reach of the lawless element; its existence was an unfair temptation to the soldiers, and a distinct menace to good discipline. For these reasons, it was destroyed.

Furthermore, I could not risk the incapacitating of my soldiers through drunkenness, for this would seriously have weakened the only available power for preserving order, nor could I hope to deal effectively with widespread drunkenness among civilians, there being no place to confine unruly persons.

Moreover, prevailing intemperence would unquestionably have precipitated street fights and riots, involving the certainty of much bloodshed, for those were days when if shots were to be fired, they must have been fired, not to intimidate, but to kill.

Fortunately, such disorders did not occur, because there was, very shortly, no liquor to impair discipline or to infuriate an element that might so readily become a menace to law abiding citizens, their familes, and their property.

An incident occurring but a few hours after the publication of my order, will serve to indicate, at once, the feeling of unrest and insecurity prevailing among the most prominent and highly respected citizens of the Western Addition, and likewise the satisfaction occasioned by my order among this most reputable class of citizens. I was waited upon at my headquarters on Broadway by a committee of highly respected residents of the district, who stated they had learned on good authority that the poor who had been burned out, felt that the rich had not suffered losses as had the poor, and were therefore determined to invade the Western Addition and lay it waste by incendiarism and attendant acts of spoil, looting, and violence. I completely reassured this committee by informing them of the precautionary measures, particularly as regarded the destruction of liquor, adopted to safeguard the lives and property of the people residing in my district. I am convinced, that the spirit of the poorer classes being as represented, prevalent drunkenness would have led unavoidably to the gravest disorders . When it became known that no liquor was to be had, it is a notorious fact that this intelligence occasioned universal satisfaction and gratifying reassurance to all concerned, except, of course, to the intemperates.

Prohibition, pure and simple, was my unqualified aim and object. I certainly intended to convey this idea when my order, or its context, was telephoned to Department Headquarters for authority to issue it.

If my subordinates erred in the execution of my order, they did so through a zealous endeavor to render prohibition effective, and I desire to shield them, as best I may, from responsibility in the execution of their duty as they conceived it, for I am assured each of them performed his duty according to the dictates of conscience and an ardent desire to execute the order for the welfare of the people, and the preservation of discipline in their respective commands. There was at that time, no menace to discipline more to be dreaded than intemperance; this evil was obviated, and the discipline maintained was superb: I have not seen better in forty-two years service. I do not recall any instance of soldiers being involved in any disorder exept to suppress it.

As to the preparation of the order, there was obviously no time for mature deliberation regarding its expediency, neither was it possible to elaborate details. Prompt and energetic action was an imperative necessity in order to preserve discipline among the soldiery and to safeguard the lives and property of the people. It is well known that these ends were successfully effected. No more was there time, the day before, to maturely deliberate regarding the expediency of destroying by dynamite thousands of dollars' worth of property to stop the fire in my district, nevertheless the intelligent, prompt, and effective use of dynamite by Captains Coleman and Briggs, under my personal supervison , absolutely stopped the fire in my district, leaving the Western Addition with its millions of property almost intact.

As I may be responsible for this dynamiting, in the interest of the City, so may I be responsible for the destruction of liquor tht put in jeopardy the very lives of an alredy greviously stricken community.

Very respectfully,

Colonel, Coast Artillery Corps.

The Army's Judge-Advocate General, in 1907, issued an opinion disputing the validity of hundreds of claims for restitution based upon Col. Morris' illegal order. All claims for compensation were later turned down by Congress as well as the San Francisco Red Cross and Relief Corporation.
Office of the Judge-Advocate General
Washington, D.C.

September 5, 1907

Respectfully returned to the Secretary of War.

Mr. C.M. Fickert, Attorney-at-Law, San Francisco, California, writes to the Secretary of War in regard to the claim of one Anton Meyer for the sum of $173.25, for liquor destroyed by Federal troops on the 21st day of April, 1906, during the conflagration at San Francisco. The case is accompanied by the affidavits of Anton Meyer, and his wife, to the effect that on the 21st day of April, 1906, at about twelve oclock, when the saloon was closed, six or seven soldiers of the United States Regular Army, under the charge of a sergeant whose name is unknown, came to the saloon and were about to force the front door open with hatchets; that said Anton Meyer told them he would rather have them enter the door than break it open, and he thereupon opened the door and allowed said soldiers and sergeant to enter; that immediately following their entry the soldiers entirely destroyed all the liquor in the saloon, with the exception of one barrel of port which the sergeant took away with him in a wagon, saying at the time that it was or use in one of the hospitals.

The report of the Commanding General, Pacific Division, includes a report made by 1st Lieutenant Edward H. DeArmond, Artillery Corps, in which it is stated that at the saloon of Anton Meyer, 2669 Lombard Street, whisky and wine were taken and sent to the General Hospital instead of destroying it. Beyond this there is no mention of Meyer's saloon in the report. It follows that unless it can be established that the sergeant had authority to destroy the liquor as he did, his act must have been unauthorized; and for the unauthroized acts of its agents is is well established that the United States may not be held responsible.

Be this as it may, however, there is at present no fund from which the War Department may meet claims of the nature here advanced.

On December 21, 1906, the Secretary of War wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives recommending that a portion of the unexpended balance of the appropriations made by Congress for the relief of San Francisco be devoted to the settlement of claims for the destruction of liquor, as a police measure, in that city. Congress has not yet, so far as is known, acted in the premises. Without Congressional action, the War Department is unable to proceed farther in the adjudication of claims of the nature here presented.

Should favorable action be taken by Congress, the various cases presented will undoubtedly be considered on their merits; and while, on its present showing, the claim of Anton Meyer does not present features which would warrant its favorable consideration, it is recommended that Mr. Fickert be advised that when the War Department takes up the consideration of the San Francisco claims, he will be authorized to submit such evidence as he may be able to obtain in regard to the responsibility of the United States for the destruction of the liquor for which he makes claim on behalf of his client.

Return to the 1906 Earthquake Exhibit.

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