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Newspapers an Essential Service

As the Americans began that march across the continent, that westward movement, which developed into the greatest colonizing experience of modern history, the newspaper not only helped to point the way but also sent out numerous brave children to help in the struggle and to encourage the pioneer home builders, keeping pace with the frontier as soon as the new homes clustered into village or town.

In an expanding democracy, such as was the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the frontier newspaper rendered various kinds of service, many of them essential to the peculiar genius of the American form of government. There were the purely social forms of service in recording the goings and comings of people, the calls for meetings, the uniting of efforts for good causes and betterments. The editor flaunted a pennant of pride or pointed a finger of scorn and the struggling community renewed the faith that its attack upon elemental forces was not in vain. Those papers rendered economic service by exploiting natural resources and by suggesting or encouraging new enterprises. They rendered political service by advocating candidates, parties, platforms, reforms and needed laws. All these services might easily be rendered by newspapers in new lands of any country. Another kind of essential service by the American frontier newspaper had to do with the American land system. In passing the huge public domain of lands into the possession of the settlers, one essential was the publication of notices of the land claims. On the other hand, the fees for such publications often constituted the main support of the frontier papers. This kind of mutuality of service has led the advance of the American people and the American newspaper. It began on the frontier; it continues in the later metropolis.

As Washington Territory was one of the last of the American frontiers, it is natural that the frontier newspaper service should be found here in the fullness of flower in the two-score years from 1850 to 1890. Some men live longer and serve their fellows longer than do others. So has it been with the newspapers. Every publisher who launched a new paper had hope and ambition for his enterprise. Some of those papers were pitifully young at the time of their deaths or absorption by a stronger rival. Still it is comforting to believe that, in the surging of the great human tide, each of them rendered service during its day, be that day brief or long.

The first newspaper printed in that portion of Oregon lying north of the Columbia River, which later became Washington Territory, was the Columbian. It was published at Olympian and the first issue appeared on September 11, 1852. The old Ramage hand press on which it was printed had been used in California. From there it was shipped to Portland and printed the first issues of the Oregonian. After serving the Columbian, it was used to print the first newspaper in Seattle. It was then taken to Alaska and later returned to Seattle. It is now in the State Museum, University of Washington. If all the pages it has printed could be assembled, the fruitage of that old press would furnish a foundation for the early history of the Pacific Coast. One reason for establishing the Columbian was to promote the creation of the Territory of Columbia from Northern Oregon. The early issues of the paper show how valiantly and successfully that cause was advocated. It issued the call for the Monticello Convention which met on November 25, 1852. In the meantime ringing editorials called the people to action. After the Convention had memorialized Congress, the Columbian published the proceedings in full. The people applauded the energy and success of their only paper in Northern Oregon.

Candor requires, however, at this time of more accurate information, that we should recognize the fact that much of that pioneer applause was misplaced. Oregon's Delegate to Congress, General Joseph Lane, had taken the initiative for the creation of the new Territory on December 6, 1852, just eleven days after the Monticello Convention. Recent searches among his papers in the Library of Congress have shown that he was inspired by the memorial of the Cowlitz Convention of August 29, 1851. That was before the Columbian was founded. With the Cowlitz Convention manuscript in the Lane papers, were found two Oregon newspapers, the Oregonian of September 20, 1851, and the Oregon Spectator of September 23, 1851. Each of these papers carried on the front page the full proceedings of the Cowlitz Convention of the previous August. These were the effective publications in that momentous event. The bill was under debate and the name of the proposed Territory was being changed from Columbia to Washington, when the memorial of the Monticello Convention and the proceedings of that Convention in the Columbian arrived at the National Capitol. For a full discussion of these two Conventions, see the Washington Historical Quarterly, Volume XIII., No. 1, (January, 1922,) pages 3 to 19. All this does not detract from the evident purpose and energy of the Columbian. It simply transfers some of the credit of achievement to the Cowlitz Convention and to two other pioneer newspapers.

The records of such important makers and chroniclers of history should be saved. Unfortunately that is not an easy thing to do. However much faith and hope may inspire the editor, he is not always careful of his files. The short-lived papers frequently vanish completely. Successors to the earlier publishers are often slow in recognizing that what had gone on before in the papers they had acquired was worth preserving for the sake of future needs of history. It is frequently difficult and often impossible to get information about the early files.

A number of efforts have been made in the past to assemble information about the pioneer papers of Washington Territory. Among these should be mentioned the following: The Washington Press Association Proceedings, 1887-1890, contains a brief history of the press of Washington by Charles Prosch under the date of August 15, 1889. This covers pages 23 to 45. In the same pamphlet, for the year 1890, Edwin N. Fuller gives an article entitled "Historical Newspaper Sketches." He specializes on first numbers and a compilation of newspapers established, year by year, from 1882 to 1890. In that same year 1890, Herbert Howe Bancroft's History of Washington, Idaho and Montana appeared, carrying a compact history of early newspapers on pages 377 to 380. Clarence R. Bagley, himself a pioneer newspaper man, wrote an article on "Pioneer Papers of Puget Sound," which appeared in The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Volume IV., No. 4, (December, 1903,) pages 365 to 385. Several of the county and sectional histories of the Territory and State contain references to the newspapers. These are all valuable and the essential facts are drawn together in this present effort to make a more complete record of those important sources of historical materials.

In addition to the information derived from the compilations above mentioned, facts have been gathered from files of the old newspapers, surviving pioneers have been interviewed and many letters have been written to editors and publishers of papers whose age reaches back into the Territorial days. No effort has been made as yet to carry this work of investigation into the years of Statehood. That task will be a great one when undertaken but it should be effectually aided by the large number of public libraries which are now saving newspaper files. In the compilation which follows an effort is made to go beyond a mere bibliographical list. Whenever important and interesting facts are obtained about the publications these are set down with the bibliographic data. Acknowledgment should here be made to Victor J. Farrar for his assistance. He has industriously gleaned facts from many sources.

From the nature of the case, the pioneer papers dropping out of sight from one reason or another, a compilation of this kind is liable to errors, especially errors of omission. The writer would welcome suggested additions or corrections if submitted before the work is revised for separate publication, about January 1, 1923, Edmond S. Meany.

Washington AHGP | Geographic Names

Source: Washington Historical Quarterly, Volume 13-14, 1923


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