History of Oregon Newspapers/Malheur County

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Ontario and Vale.—The Ontario Argus, published by George K. Aiken, is now the oldest newspaper published in Malheur county and Mr. Aiken the oldest newspaper publisher in the county, with nearly a quarter century of continuous ownership of the paper behind him.

Malheur journalism, however, goes back to 1887, when Ontario business men sought an organ to help them land the county seat of the new county, lately carved from Baker. Vale had been made the temporary choice. (163)

This first newspaper was called the Atlas. It was started October 3, volume numbers indicate. Volume 3, No. 6, is dated at Vale, and by that time it had become the New Atlas, the change, apparently, coming with its removal to Vale, which had retained the county seat in spite of the efforts of the Atlas.

The first editor of the Atlas, at Ontario, was Sidney D. Ross, a printer from Mountain Home, Idaho. Only a few issues had been printed when Mr. Ross closed up his shop one night and quietly left, leaving as his only claim to fame in Oregon the fact that he was there at the very first. He was succeeded by W. J. Cuddy (Uncle Bill of later Oregonian fame), who came from Caldwell, Idaho, and revived the publication. He moved the paper to Vale after Ontario was defeated in its fight. No available files of the paper give any idea of what kind of battle old Bill put up for the county seat; but he was beginning to show signs of the picturesque quality which, in his paragraphs, delighted readers and, occasionally, gave jitters to editors-in-chief. Here's the way he handled a railroad conductor who mistreated his passengers (164):

The crossest, sourest, grumpiest and groutiest passenger conductor on the line, named Larson, is in trouble, and people from Green River to Huntington tenderly ask if it is sufficient to hang him. He kicked a passenger off his train while running, was arrested at Pocatello and committed. Perhaps it would have been better if the victim had settled it with his gun. Larson has been promoted crab-fashion to a freight, and his removal leaves a full corps of gentlemen punchers. Goss, Riche, Francis, Johnnie Mac, Hall and Bell are good enough for any line.

And that was the longest local (or semi-local) item in the whole paper!

The Atlas was a five-column, four-page affair at the outset and was enlarged, before its removal to Vale, to a six-column four-page. Yearly subscription price was $2.50. After publishing the paper in the new location for a time, Editor Cuddy suspended it, in 1890, and went to Portland, where he was, for 35 years, ad compositor, linotype operator, head proofreader, editorial writer, and editor of the weekly on the Oregonian. He died in Portland in 1925, aged 71.

The second paper published in Malheur county was the Malheur Gazette, established in 1889 at Vale by S. H. Shepherd. This paper promoted Democratic politics for several years, until he sold it to the Gazette Publishing Company. The new owners later changed the paper's politics to Republican. Among the editors who succeeded Mr. Shepherd were William Plughoff, Democrat, a later editor of the Argus; J. E. Roberts, active in Oregon journalism on several newspapers (Shepherd, Plughoff, and Roberts are deceased); Lionel R. Johnson, who as late as 1936 was a columnist on a Los Angeles daily; and J. W. McCulloch, a resident of Portland, who served as United States district attorney for Oregon.

The Atlas, first paper in the county at both Ontario and Vale, was printed on an old army hand-press. Mrs. Cuddy at times assisted her husband as printer and typesetter. The Gazette was printed on a Washington hand-press. Miss Ida Roberts, who at times assisted her brother, J. E. Roberts, as printer and reporter, appears to have been the first woman employed on the Gazette. Miss Velara McPherson, who later married William Plughoff, and her sister Veronica also worked as printers on the Gazette.

An issue of the Gazette for September 20, 1894, was found under a house in Unity by the contractor who was moving the building. S. H. Shepherd was still editor. (165). Sports looked large in this issue. The principal item concerned a three-day horse-racing meet to be held late in October. This was right in the middle of the depression of the 90's, but the purses amounted to $500. Bets on the races were not allowed, the announcement said. A baseball game was played each day, with $5 to the winner each time. Dividing this by nine or ten gave each player 50c to 55c—which is a bit more suggestive of depression.

Advertising indicated that shoes were selling from 25 cents a pair up. One store announced it would be open on Sundays from 5 p. m. to 7 p. m. only. Other stores apparently remained open all Sunday. Will R. King of Baker advertised as a lawyer.

The county's third paper was the Ontario News, seven columns, four pages, started in November 1892 by W. E. Bowen, who came to Ontario from Weiser, Idaho. The News was first Democratic, then Populist, in politics. Circulation, 675; $2 a year. In 1896 J. R. Gregg, who had been reporter and printer on the paper, purchased an interest. The paper was moved to Baker by Mr. Bowen in 1897 after running for a time as a semi-weekly and was suspended the next year.

Malheur's first papers were ready-printed on one side. The Gazette and the News each started as six-column and enlarged to a seven-column size.

The first paper all printed at home and the fourth paper to make its appearance in the county was the District Silver Advocate of Vale, which appeared in the field January 6, 1897, as a Wednesday weekly. Bert Venable was the first proprietor, and John E. Roberts the first editor. Later Mr. Venable transferred his interest to E. R. Murray. All these men are now deceased. The paper was what its name implies—a champion of Bryan and the free-silver movement. W. E. Lees, now an Ontario capitalist, acquired a controlling interest and for a time acted as editor. During its last year as the Advocate the paper was published at Ontario by J. E. Roberts, who moved it there from Vale and ran it as a Democratic organ. Don Carlos Boyd, formerly of Baker, later associated with several Oregon newspapers, purchased the paper November 28, 1900.

Mr. Boyd changed the name to the Ontario Argus and transferred its allegiance to the Republican party. Later Mr. Boyd's father-in-law, ex-Judge J. T. Clement, became associated with him as joint owner.

All the papers thus far mentioned ran as weeklies. For a short time in 1897 the News ran as a semi-weekly, as noted. The first daily in the county was run by the District Silver Advocate at Vale in the latter part of 1897. The weekly issue was soon resumed. Seven years later the Ontario Argus for a time ran a daily edition.

The sixth newspaper to appear in Malheur county was the Ontario Mattock, founded in Ontario March 14, 1899, by G. L. King, who made his son, Edward L. King, editor. G. L. King was the first agent of the Oregon Short Line at Ontario and later served as justice of the peace there. He died in 1932, aged 84. He was, old-timers recall, one of those instrumental in starting the old Atlas in 1887. The Mattock survived only about a year, when John E. Roberts consolidated it with the District Silver Advocate.

The Malheur County Herald was started in Vale in 1898 by William Plughoff, formerly with the Gazette. He conducted it as a Democratic organ until March 1901, when Almer G. King and Paul Delaney acquired the plant and King acted as editor. Delaney retired, and King moved the plant to Ontario. B. W. Rice became editor in February 1902. King and Delaney changed the name to the Democrat, and when the paper was moved to Ontario the name was made the Ontario Democrat. Soon Judge Will R. King became owner and editor, with William Plughoff in charge of the mechanical department. Judge King was long prominent in Oregon politics. He served Malheur in both the senate and the lower house. In 1898 he was the candidate of Democrats, Silver Republicans, and Populists for governor. He was later a member of the state supreme court and was chief counsel of the U. S. reclamation service under President Wilson. He died in Washington, D. C., June 1, 1934, aged 70.

About 1903 Judge King sold the Ontario Democrat to J. R. Gregg, who at various times had been connected with the News, Advocate, and Argus and was at the time in charge of the mechanical department and also local reporter for the Democrat. For the next seven years Mr. Gregg conducted the paper as owner, editor, and manager.

During his management a succession of women compositors worked on the Democrat—Miss Grace Brown, now Mrs. Henry Moody of Ocean Park, Calif.; Miss Lizzie Butler, now Mrs. N. C. Farmer; Miss Nellie Purcell, now Mrs. Frank Morfitt; Miss Winnie Purcell, now Mrs. James Divin; Miss Maude New, now Mrs. Will Butler, the last four all still residents of Ontario.

The first woman editor in Malheur county, which has had several, was Miss Estelle Riddle, who with C. C. Dodge purchased the Democrat from Mr. Gregg, taking the editorial chair while Mr Dodge acted as manager. Mr. Dodge married Miss Riddle, they changed the name to the Optimist and together ran the paper until 1912, when J. E. Roberts organized a stock company and purchased it.

Mr. Roberts changed the name back to the Democrat and put it back in the Democratic ranks. About a year later, after some financial trouble, the Democrat went into the hands of a receiver, J. R. Gregg being appointed by the court. He repurchased the plant at sheriff's sale, cleared the indebtedness, and sold it again to C. C. Dodge and A. F. Riddle, who conducted the paper with Mr. Riddle, a former Kansas newspaper man, as editor. Mr. Riddle later went to the staff of the Idaho Daily Statesman, Boise. Mr. Dodge, still in Ontario, has retired from newspaper work.

Dodge & Riddle sold the Democrat to George K. Aiken in 1918. Mr. Aiken, then owning the Argus, discontinued the Democrat.

William Plughoff entered the picture again when he purchased the Ontario Argus from Don Carlos Boyd in 1908. He sold in 1910 to M. E. Bain, who after selling to W. C. Marsh in 1915 and repurchasing, sold the paper in 1916 to George K. Aiken, who proceeded to control the field by the purchase of the Democrat.

A graduate of Macalester College, in St. Paul, in 1908, Mr. Aiken had his early newspaper experience in St. Paul before coming west to Puget Sound. He did railroads and other beats on the Tacoma Ledger, and from there, after his marriage to Miss Lulu Piper, a Macalester college-mate, he first became a publisher at Roslyn, Wash., moving from there to Ontario. Mr. Aiken has been drafted for an exceptional amount of public service by the people of his community. As this is written he is both mayor of Ontario and member of the state game commission.

In the summer of 1937 Editor Aiken was cited for contempt after criticising the conduct of the circuit judge in his county in paroling a convicted thief, citing a parallel case in Idaho in which the accused had received a sentence of 25 years and contending that such differences represent neither justice to the criminal nor protection to society. The Argus editorial questioning the justice of the judge's action appeared while the court was awaiting a complete report from Washington, D. C., on the prisoner's criminal record. On this showing the judge sentenced the prisoner to two years in the penitentiary and withdrew his own charges against the editor. Here was another Oregon example of an editor's risking personal safety for the benefit of society. The Oregonian, commenting on the case a few days late attacked the assumed right of judges to try their own contempt cases. "A contempt case as much as any other," said the editorial, "should be tried before a disinterested tribunal."

A second paper, the Eastern Oregon Observer, was started in Ontario in 1937 by Elmo E. Smith. He continues as publisher (1939), with William Robinson, formerly of Newberg, as editor.

One of the first "columns" conducted by a woman on a weekly paper was started on the Argus January 1, 1931, by Mrs. Dottie Crummett Edwards, already an experienced newspaper woman though young in years. It was followed by a poets' corner established by Lulu Piper Aiken in 1934. Mrs. Aiken not only has developed regional interest in Oregon poetry and encouraged a number of young writers but has herself achieved recognition as a rising poet, achieving frequent publication.

The "Alaska invasion" of promoters from the Far North gave Vale the impetus which resulted in the founding of the Malheur Enterprise at Vale, the first number of which appeared November 20, 1909.

Major L. H. French, Denny Brogan, and others who had been promoting mining schemes in the sub-Arctic arrived in the town in 1906 and proceeded to set things going. Major French, pioneer extraordinary, ex-circus master, and related by marriage to the Studebaker wagon-automobile family, promoted everything from irrigation projects to prizefights, narrowly missing landing the Jeffries-Johnson battle in 1910.

Major French was generally regarded as the financial backer of the Enterprise, the first manager of which was B. M. Stone and the first editor John J. McGrath, himself an Alaskan who had done considerable newspaper work in the Far North and a little in Seattle just before going to Vale. The paper was not misnamed; it was "enterprising" in every respect. Screaming headlines, red-hot editorials, and a general booster spirit, which set out to make Vale another Chicago, characterized the new paper. Oil wells and irrigation projects were other factors which, as the promoters saw it, were to be the making of Vale. The town did prosper, but not like that.

In November 1912 John Rigby succeeded Stone in charge of the Enterprise. In a recent history of the newspaper Arthur H. Bone, present publisher, gives Rigby a large share of the credit for stirring up the public opinion which assured the success of the Warm Springs irrigation project.

John E. Roberts purchased the paper in July 1915 and carried it on until his death on August 1 of the next year. His two sons, Homer and Rolla, continued with the mechanical department and Mr. Rigby again took charge of the paper. Homer later became a reporter on the Corvallis Gazette-Times and the Eugene Guard in the 1920's and at the time of his sudden death in 1933 had recently finished covering the California legislature for the United Press.

George Huntington Currey, active in Oregon journalism, purchased the paper from Rigby in 1917, trading it to Bruce Dennis in June 1920 for the Baker Herald. Dennis, then publisher also of the La Grande Observer, placed William Seeman, an employee of Currey's, in charge as editor. After the election of Robert N. Stanfield, eastern Oregon sheepman, to the United States senate in 1928, a result in which the Enterprise had a share, the paper was sold to Lloyd Riches, formerly of the Stanfield Standard, who in turn sold his controlling interest to Charles K. Crandall, son of C. M. Crandall of Vale, in September 1923. Winfield S. Brown, lifelong Oregon newspaper publisher and printer, who had held an interest in the paper with Mr. Riches and had handled the mechanical department, bought out the Crandall interest in February 1924. Brown retained the paper until November 1930, when he sold to Arthur H. Bone the present publisher. Mrs. Dottie Crummett Edwards was Mr. Brown's editor until 1925, when she was succeeded by Mrs. Alma McLing. Mrs. McLing remained until April 1931. Barney R. Miller, formerly of Ashland and Portland, became news editor in 1935. Mrs. Edwards from Vale went to the Ontario Argus. Mr. Miller soon returned to radio work in Portland, and since then Mr. Bone has, most of the time, handled his own news.

Nyssa.—Three newspapers, the News, the Sun, and the Gate City Journal, form the journalistic procession at Nyssa. The News came first, launched in 1905 by O. O. Davis, and ran for about a year. It was followed by the Sun, which, under several ownerships, managed to keep going for several years. Francis Bros. were the founders, getting out a non-partisan sheet on Mondays, starting in 1906.

The Gate City Journal was launched in 1910 and was acquired two years later by Win S. Brown, who conducted it until 1922, when he purchased the Malheur Enterprise and moved to Vale. He, however, retained his ownership, leaving H. F. Brown in charge for several years. In 1931 W. F. and Alma McLing went to Nyssa to handle the Gate City Journal for him. After the the death of Mr. Brown April 21, 1932, Mr. and Mrs. McLing sold their interest to Mr. and Mrs. Louis P. Thomas of Oakland, California, and were succeeded by Berwyn Burke of the Fayette (Idaho) Independent, who had leased the paper. Editor and publisher (1939) is Louis P. Thomas.

Our Western Ways was the distinctive name of a newspaper started in Westfall, Malheur county, by E. A. Heath in 1900. Issued weekly on Mondays, it ran for several years.