History of Oregon Newspapers/Morrow County

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Heppner.—J. H. Stine of Walla Walla, Washington, father of many Oregon newspapers, launched the Heppner Gazette, first newspaper in Morrow county, bringing the first number off the press March 30, 1883. Heppner was small and struggling in those days, and the battle between the honest, hardy pioneers and the rougher element parasitic on the new communities was by no means over when Stine arrived to start his paper.

The publisher moved a small printing plant (Washington handpress, etc.) from Portland.[1] After a short time Stine, as was his wont, disposed of the new paper. The purchaser was John W. Redington, old scout and Indian-fighter, who gave his friend Owen Wister a lot of his "stuff" for The Virginian, first and perhaps greatest of all westerns. Colonel Redington, was chief of scouts for Gen. O. O. Howard, who once wrote a glowing tribute to his scout's courage, resourcefulness, and industry. Colonel Redington carried these qualities into his editorial work. Years before, he had worked on the Oregon Statesman and on the Willamette Valley Farmer for S. A. Clarke.

Redington was, withal, a humorist, and eccentric. When he arrived in Heppner, where he remained for five years, he had just finished a season of fighting Indians, and the prospect of a little more fighting didn't distress him. On the Gazette he became one of the best-known editors in Oregon. He was always picturesque. While running the Gazette, he had painted snappy signs on fence boards and rocks all over the countryside advertising his newspaper. "The Heppner Gazette" read one of the signs, "Hell on Horse Thieves and Hypocrites," and another proclaimed "The Heppner Gazette Bangup for Bustles."

Heppner's second paper, the Times, entered the field in the early 80's. The editor, Homer Hallock, was young and inexperienced, and he failed to keep the paper going long.

The Morrow County Record was the predecessor of the second paper known as the Times. The Record was established in 1890 as a Thursday weekly organ of the Farmers' Alliance. John Coffee, who bought in the plant of the defunct Lexington Budget, launched the new paper. It had a hard time. Successive owners of the Record, during its five years of struggle, were Coffee, A. H. Hicks, Vawter Crawford, and Thomas Nelson. Nelson, in a note to the writer of this history, many years later, told the story of those days most strikingly. He wrote: "In 1894 I was foreman of the Heppner Gazette, and in 1895 I conducted the Heppner Record. Otis and Alva Patterson were the owners of the Gazette. The Record was taken over by the Pattersons December 1895 and the subscriptions filled out by them. I had a darned hard time living. It was during the Cleveland panic when wheat was 20 cents a bushel and wool 4 cents a pound. The only event of importance that I recall is that during this year I finished my career as a Democrat and have been a Republican ever since." This was written in 1925. Mr. Nelson is well known as the editor of the Junction City Times. He moved the plant away to a better-looking field at Pilot Rock.

Later owners of the Gazette, following Redington, were Rev. Henry Rasmus, then pastor of the Heppner Methodist Episcopal church, and Otis Patterson, a teacher from Waitsburg, Wash. With his brother Alva, he organized the Patterson Publishing Co., which conducted the business until 1898. The Patterson brothers brought to Heppner the first power printing press, a Country Campbell. The Pattersons were ambitious, and in a town then having fewer than a thousand population they published a semi-weekly, Tuesdays and Fridays, for five years, from March 1, 1892, to the fall of 1897. For several months in 1898, during the Spanish-Amerian war, they even issued a five-column, four-page daily.

Otis Patterson was something of a humorist, with a quaint journalistic style. One of his little jokes was to get out a "daily" for one day. This he did, June 5, 1891, saying to his readers: "It might be right to say that this is neither a salutatory nor a valedictory but rather a combination of both, for this day our little daily comes forth and tomorrow, with the setting sun, it dies."

When Otis Patterson moved away to The Dalles as receiver of the United States land office, in 1898, Corliss Merritt became publisher of the Gazette. J. W. Redington was back in 1900 running a Republican paper, which he soon after sold to Fred Warnock and Ed Michell. After two years Warnock purchased Michell's interest and conducted the paper until 1910.

Meanwhile the second Heppner Times was in the field, having been established November 18, 1897, by E. M. Shutt, with a plant very similar to that of the Gazette. Elected sheriff of the county in 1902, Mr. Shutt sold the Times to A. J. Hicks, who continued the Shutt policy of keen competition with the Gazette all along the line and installed a Simplex typesetting machine, the first mechanical composing apparatus put in use in the county. He ran the paper for ten years, when Shutt resumed control.

Vawter Crawford, formerly of the Record, took charge of the Gazette in December 1910, purchasing the paper from Fred Warnock. February 16, 19 12, he eliminated the competition by purchasing the Times from E. M. Shutt and consolidating the papers as the Gazette-Times. The paper has come down to the present (1939) under the same name and with the ownership in the Crawford family. Vawter Crawford died in April 1935 at the age of 67. Like Otis Patterson, he came from Waitsburg, Wash., to Heppner, and his first journalistic employment in Heppner was as apprentice on the Gazette under Patterson, whom he had known in Waitsburg. He was county clerk for eight years at Heppner. Under his editorship, in 1931, the Gazette-Times won the Sigma Delta Chi trophy as the best weekly newspaper in the state.

The Heppner Herald, which was to continue in competition with the Gazette-Times for ten years, was started in April 1924 by L. K. Harlan, formerly of Condon and Ione. The new paper installed a Model K Linotype, forcing the Gazette-Times also to install a like machine. The Herald, an anti-prohibition paper backed by the liquor interests, was issued as a semi-weekly for about three months under Harlan. With the passing of the saloon, Harlan turned over the paper late in 1915 to Pierce and Fletcher, printers. Several transfers followed until S. A. Pattison took it over and conducted it until 1924, when a disastrous fire sapped his resources and he suspended publication. Returning to Pennsylvania, from which state he had come to Oregon, he died there several years later.

The disastrous flood of 1903 which cost 219 lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars in property loss, putting Heppner in the headlines of newspapers all over the world, gave the Gazette and the Times their greatest journalistic opportunity. At that time Warnock and Michell were running the Gazette, and Hicks the Times. Both papers, issued regularly on Thursdays, got out special editions for several days following the disaster, both covering the event thoroughly with news and features and running name of victims as they were learned.

Since the death of Vawter Crawford, the Gazette-Times has been conducted by his two sons, Spencer and Jasper V. Crawford, manager and editor, respectively, who had been associated with him.

Boardman.—The Boardman Mirror was established by Mark A. Cleveland, veteran publisher, February 11, 1921. After four years Mr. Cleveland sold the paper to the Arlington Bulletin, with which it was consolidated under the Bulletin's name, September 18, 1925. Boardman has had other little papers, but this was the most conspicuous.

Cleveland never worried much about circulation. He used to tell a story of another country newspaper man who worried even less and must have been typical of those who started papers in two-acre towns:

Once when Cleveland visited this editor and helped to get out the paper, he was surprised to find that the circulation was only 80 copies.

"Pretty small circulation," commented Mark. "Why don't you try to increase it?"

"What! Increase the number of copies and run them off on a Washington hand-press? I should say not!"

Harold R. Benjamin, who later became a professor of education, successively, at the University of Oregon, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Colorado, was one of the Boardman editors.

Irrigon.—It used to be a treat to hear old Addison Bennett, then an Oregonian reporter with a sort of roving commission, pronounce the name of one of the most picturesque of Oregon newspapers, which he founded and ran for several years—"the Oregon Irrigator of Irrigon, Oregon," he used to chant merrily, with the words running "trippingly on the tongue." Irrigon, though still on the map, has failed to achieve its early promise, and the Irrigator has been gone nigh unto a quarter of a century—things so mellifluously named have a way of fading out; but in its day it was something.

After an interesting career in the East and Middle West, Bennett came to Oregon to spend the last two decades of his life. In his sixtieth year, at an age when so many are beginning to contemplate retirement, he began publication of the Irrigator, in 1904. The publication, a four-page six-column folio, issued on Wednesdays, was designed to promote irrigation for his section. There Bennett built up a reputation for "jackrabbit stories" published in the Irrigator and also sent to other papers.

Bennett himself was a "card." Perhaps he will be remembered longest for a prairie ballad he wrote while he was publishing a chain of those small papers in Kansas which drew their sustenance from the publication of final proof land notices. Old-timers remember how they ran; most of the surviving early typos could still set them up from memory: "Notice is hereby given that the following-named settler has filed notice of his intention to make final proof in support of his claim." . . so they used to go. This ballad was entitled "The Little Old Sod Shanty on the Claim."

Like Bret Harte| and many other apparently typical westerners, Bennett was born in the East—in Orange county, New York, January 8, 1845, and he started his newspaper career on the Wheeling, (W. Va.) Intelligencer in 1868. In 1879 he went to Kansas with a colony of 400 persons from Zanesville, Ohio.

In Meade county, Kansas, he had the telescopic optimism to start the Pearlette Call when there was only one house in that part of the state; within a few months there were 2500 homesteaders in the region. Land notices! By the next May, however, grasshoppers riding the hot winds had driven all but 96 persons out of the new county.

Dodge City, lively frontier town, was his next stopping-place. At Garden City he got rich publishing those land-claim notices; at one time he owned 17 small papers in that part of the state.

By 1889 he had moved on out to Oregon by way of Denver. From 1894 to 1903 he was again in the East, running a commercial printing business in New York state.

When Irrigon began to dry up he went to Portland, working for the Oregonian mostly as a traveling correspondent, to the day of his death, in 1924. His circulation on the Irrigator never exceeded 300, but he enjoyed himself immensely. The paper folded up in 1912, the year after his departure.

Here's a stanza of "The Old Sod Shanty," the ballad he wrote in Kansas:

Oh, the hinges are of leather
And the board roof lets the howling blizzard in.
As he sneaks up in the grass,
And the windows have no glass,
I can hear the hungry coyote
In my little old sod shanty on the claim.

  1. Story by Jasper V. Crawford in Oregon Exchanges, Dec. 1926.