Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 20/Historical Tablet at Oregon City
HISTORICAL TABLET AT OREGON CITY
Address by George H. Himes, Curator and Assistant Secretary of the Oregon Historical Society, and Secretary of the Oregon Pioneer Association, at the Dedication of the Tablit Prepared to Mark the Site Where The Oregon Spectator, the First Newspaper West of the Rocky Mountains, Was Printed on February 5, 1846.
The unveiling of a tablet at Oregon City on August 9th to mark the site where The Oregon Spectator, the first newspaper in American territory west of the Rocky Mountains was issued on February 5, 1846, seventy-three years and seven months before, was an interesting feature of the joint programme of the National and State Editorial Associations at their meetings in Portland on August 8-10, 1919.At the time The Spectator was started the difficulties confronting such an enterprise were very great. Then Oregon City had a population of less than five hundred. The total population of the "Oregon Country" meaning the area now constituting the States of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and the parts of Montana and Wyoming west of the summit of the Rocky Mountains did not exceed two thousand. The total voting population on June 3, 1845, was five hundred and four. Yet the citizens in and around Oregon City determined to have a newspaper. A subscription paper was prepared that year and enough pledges at ten dollars a share were secured to aggregate approximately twelve hundred dollars. That sum was entrusted to Gov. George Abernethy and forwarded to New York; and through him a hand-press, type, cases and other items needed in a printing plant, including a supply of paper, were purchased and sent to Oregon City via Cape Horn in a sailing vessel. Arrangements were made with John Fleming, a printer from Ohio, who came across the plains to Oregon City in 1844, to do the printing. The size of the paper was 11½ by 15½ inches, with four pages of four columns each, and it was issued twice a month at $5.00 a year. Beginning with September 12, 1850, the paper was issued weekly with D. J. Schnebly as editor, and the subscription price was raised to $7.00 a year.
Time does not permit reference to many other details of interest; suffice it to say that the journal had a fitful existence until the date of suspension in March, 1855, having been edited by seven different persons, and its mechanical department operated by nine different printers. It is likely there were others, but no trace of them can be found. The salary of the first editor, an attorney named W. G. T'Vault, was at the rate of $300.00 per year. He was a native of Kentucky and was reported to have had some experience as an editor in Tennessee before coming to Oregon. His services were dispensed with at the end of two months.
Out of the twenty-two persons whose names appear upon the tablet I have had a personal acquaintance with thirteen, the first of them being T. F. McElroy, who was associated with James W. Wiley in publishing the Columbian, the first newspaper north of the Columbia river, the first issue of which was on September 11, 1852, at Olympia at the head of Puget Sound. He was master of the first Masonic lodge in Washington Olympia No. 1, in 1853, and officiated at the funeral of James McAllister, a member of his lodge, who was killed by Indians on October 28, 1855, at the beginning of the Yakima Indian war which lasted a year, and was a neighbor of my father's family. Acquaintance with George B. Goudy began soon afterwards, as he was a captain of volunteers during that Indian war. Both men became prominent in public affairs in the early days of Washington Territory.
Other members of The Spectator family achieved considerable distinction, notably James W. Nesmith, as supreme judge of the Provisional Government, volunteer soldier, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, United States Senator, and member of the House of Representatives; George Law Curry, as secretary of Oregon Territory and the last territorial governor; Wilson Blain, as a minister and educator; Aaron E. Wait, as a lawyer and circuit judge; D. J. Schneby, as a newspaper man at Ellensburg, eastern Washington.
My association with the men mentioned, together with a growing consciousness of the importance of memorials to perpetuate the beginnings of various enterprises as well as events of historical importance, led me more than forty years ago to make a thorough investigation in locating the site of the building where The Spectator was printed. Then this point was selected as the proper one and the choice was confirmed by a number of persons then living who had been original subscribers to the paper, among them the late Hiram Straight, a pioneer of 1843, Sidney W. Moss, Medorem Crawford, F. X. Matthieu, and J. R. Robb, pioneers of 1842, W. Carey Johnson, a pioneer of 1845; and this choice had additional confirmation by William L. Adams, who bought the Spectator plant in April, 1855, and issued therefrom the Oregon Argus on the 21st of that month, as well as by David W. Craig, his foreman.
A number of plans for securing a tablet to mark this spot occurred to me from time to time during these passing years, but none seemed feasible until after this property had been acquired by its present owner, the Hawley Pulp & Paper Company. About eighteen months ago Mr. Hawley was interviewed and a tentative plan for a tablet submitted to him. This he accepted and I was bidden to proceed to carry out the idea suggested. No definite time, however, was agreed upon for the fulfillment of the project.
In April of the present year, after learning that the National Editorial Association had arranged to make a coast-wide trip in August, it occurred to me that if the contemplated tablet could be dedicated as a feature on the joint programme of the National and State Editorial Associations it would be well to have the tablet ready for the ceremony of dedication on the date already alluded to. The matter was then referred to Mr. Hawley, and he consented to all the arrangements that I had made, and the editorial associations alluded graciously gave the proposed dedication a place upon the joint programme.
And now, here the tablet is, owing to the public spirit of Mr. Willard P. Hawley, and a photostat copy of No. 2 of The Spectator, February 19, 1846, can be seen in his office.
This memorial, mounted on a huge bowlder taken from the foot of the cliffs near by where the five Indians who killed Dr. Marcus Whitman, his wife and twelve others, on November 29-30, 1847, were hung on June 3, 1850, is to honor the beginning of newspaper life on the Pacific Coast.
- The tablet stands on the right hand or west side of Main street, Oregon City, near the office of the Hawley Pulp & Paper Company. When the buildings that are contemplated by this company are erected a recess or alcove will be provided in order that the tablet may be readily seen from the street.