History of Oregon Newspapers/Pittock and the Morning Oregonian
PITTOCK AND THE OREGONIAN
Just a week after the Portland Weekly Times entered the daily field, December 18, 1860, Henry L. Pittock, new owner of the Oregonian, announced his purpose to enter the daily field—which he did as soon as he could assemble an adequate plant.
The name of Henry L. Pittock already has been used many times in this story of the Oregon press. Let's stop here and give a brief survey of this historic publisher.
A native of Pennsylvania, he had learned to set type on his home-town paper in that state. He had come west a few months earlier than the young Harvey Scott, and when he stepped into the Oregonian office that day in November, 1853, to ask Publisher Dryer for a job, he was 17, on his own, and seriously in need of work. Already he had applied in vain to Editor D. J. Schnebly for a job on the little Spectator at Oregon City. Papers were few in early Oregon, and printers were not in the demand they had been in the years of the gold rush. So Pittock needed that job, any job. It is told of him, however, that he had refused a job as bartender in one of early Oregon's saloons, feeling a repugnance for the liquor traffic (1).
So he approached Dryer in the Oregonian office. "Well, young man, what can you do?" was the editor-publisher's challenge.
"I can set type."
"Well, let's see what you can do with this." "This" was a piece of reprint—the sort of thing that has launched so many young printer-editors on journalistic careers.
A proof was pulled of the result. Dryer found it was practically errorless. Tossing the lad a five-dollar gold piece (perfectly lawful money in those days), he invited him to call again.
The calls were regular, soon becoming daily; Pittock had found his job, and the Oregonian had found the man who was to carry it as a going business concern, through good times and bad, for three score years.
Dryer's somewhat uncertain health, his eye-trouble, and his absences in the public service and on campaign trips for Whigs and later Republicans, made it necessary frequently for him to leave the paper in charge of a substitute. He found young Pittock loyal, industrious, sober, and systematic—qualities which no institution needs more than a newspaper and which were none too common in one person in those days. In some of these respects, indeed, as elsewhere intimated, he was an improvement on his employer. In November, 1856, Pittock and Elisha Treat Gunn, prominent early-day printer and pioneer Washington territory publisher, were admitted as equal partners with Dryer. After two years both withdrew from this association.
November 24, 1860, Dryer, in a leading editorial, announced the transfer of his ownership to Pittock, remaining as editor until January 12, 1861. Dryer's faithful and fruitful service to the Republican party in Oregon had brought him recognition from President-elect Lincoln, in the form of a promised appointment as commissioner from the United States to the Sandwich Islands, then an independent kingdom. This appointment came along just about right for Mr. Dryer, whose weakness as a managing publisher had practically lost that him his paper. The story as told by Harvey Scott and others Dryer owed Pittock more money for his services as printer and looked as he ever could pay, and the simple way manager than out seemed to be just to turn the paper over to his young associate.
Mr. Pittock, the first signed article of his long career as owner and part-owner of the paper, spoke frankly of plans to make the Oregonian a paying institution (apparently its financial difficulties were matter of public knowledge) and promised daily edition "probably the first of January."
The promise, substantially, was kept. The prospectus of the Daily Oregonian was published February 2, 1861, and Volume 1, No. 1 of the Morning Oregonian appeared two days later. In the meantime, the new publisher had gone to San Francisco (in December, 1860) in search of press bigger and faster than the Washington succeeded the old Ramage on which the hand-press which had first Oregonians were run. The desired power press could not be obtained for more than single-cylinder Hoe was year, when obtained. The old hand-press ran the daily until its more modern successor arrived.
When Mr. Pittock went to San Francisco, he was uncertain whether the Oregonian was to be morning or an evening publication. The story goes that he purchased three logotypes for the first word of the title: Mor, Eve, and ning. Before the first issue of his daily appeared, he had decided to use the Mor.
The first issue of the Morning Oregonian came off the press with less than one column of local news, all tinged with editorial comment. Obviously the modern journalistic preference for local over non-local news had not yet become accepted among early Oregon newspapers.
The paper was a four-page affair, with five 16½-inch columns to the page. Two columns of advertising ran down the right side of page one, and there were six columns more of "business" in this early Oregon daily.
Editorial matter, heavily political, totaled in excess of two columns. was the eve of the Civil war. seemed almost impossible to keep oil the political note. An editorial, for instance, on the failure of the first Atlantic cable concluded:
The failure of this miracle of ingenuity has no parallel in the history of human disasters, except the failure of the fusion movement in New York. The one prevented telegraphic connection with Europe; the other, democratic connection with the presidency.
News technique was not far advanced. For example, here is a murder story:
Mr. Newell, brother of the editor of the Mountaineer, was murdered in San Francisco a few weeks ago. The murderer says it was done to avenge slanderous words in regard to his wife, made by Mr. Newell. The trial of the murderer will disclose the facts. Col. Farrar, of this city, has been retained for the prosecution. The trial was to take place about the first of the present month.
And here was a local police story:
There is a good deal of petty thieving going on at this time in Portland. Clothes should not be left out on the drying lines at night. Attempts have lately been made to break into houses.
Some more of the news:
Pile Driving.—We learn that the object of the pile driving at the foot of Taylor street is to construct a wharf for the use of the new warehouse erected on the land claimed by J. P. O. Lownsdale. The improvements now going on there appear to be calculated to attract business to that portion of town.
A brief society notice:
Married—On the 27th inst., at the residence of Judge Olds, in Yamhill county, Mr. John Wilson and Miss Elizabeth Parker, both of this city.
The advertising still was mostly of the card, label type, all in dull, formal phrasing.
Medicines of various sorts were prominently advertised, including Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup for children; Old Sachem Bitters, with a woodcut of an Indian, "unequalled" in all cases of dypepsia, debility, loss of appetite, or any irregularity of the stomach; Ayer's Pills and Cherry Pectoral; Sanford's Liver Regulator; Brown's Bronchial Troches.
Among the 56 advertisers were commission merchants at Victoria and New Westminster, B. C., who advertised for the farmersbusiness; William F. Wilcox furniture store (billiard and ten-pin balls carved to the greatest accuracy); Gov. Byrnes of the "Identical" Wines and Liquors for cash; Commercial College (instructions given in writing, drawing, bookkeeping, arithmetic, navigation, etc. "The public are respectfully invited to examine scholars' improvement"); George H. Williams and A. C. Gibbs, law and collection office; Portland Foundry and Machine Shop; Jockey Club gin (with the usual "eminent" physicians' endorsement); Pacific University and Tualatin Academy; ads of fruit trees for sale; and the following magazines of the period: Blackwood' s Magazine and the British Reviews—the London British Quarterly (Conservative), the Edinburgh Review (Whig), the North British Review (Free Church), the Westminister Review (Liberal), and Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (Tory). "The present critical state of European affairs will render these publications unusually interesting during the coming year." This sentence could have been kept standing for at least three-quarters of a century.
There was a half-column house-ad, Prospects for the Daily and Weekly Oregonian, saying, in part: "It (the Oregonian) will be un-flinchingly Republican;—yet in the defense of its prinicples it will strive not to wantonly injure the feelings of its political opponents."
Public control over the treatment of mental diseases was not developed in the 60's as it is today, and it doubtless aroused no comment among the readers of the Oregonian (for May 15, 1865) to find in the same issue of the paper an advertisement for the Oregon State Insane Asylum and County Hospital, Drs. Hawthorne and Loryea, physicians and proprietors.
Adjoining a matter-of-fact announcement of Richards & McCracken regarding "Brooms, Baskets & Pails," came the more striking professional statement of Madame ve Conte, Fortune-Teller: "Having just received direct from France the Genuine Cards and Signs of the Celebrated Madame Norma, who told so perfectly the fate and fortune of the Great Napoleon the First, and cleverly re lates the past, clearly explains the present, and reliably predicts the future." (What a killing the lady could have made in Wall Street along in 1929!) But to quote the psychic specialist further: "Do you want to be successful in love or law? then consult Madame ve Conte, No. 27 Washington street, between First and Second. Consultation fee, $5." The matter-of-fact printer added "m 3 tf" to indicate that it was not to be dropped out of the paper until the Madame ordered, and, perhaps, to suggest to the more or less wary reader that the paper had not exactly volunteered this blurb for the seeress, who was a forerunner of the gifted Florance Marvin, who informed all interested readers of the Post-Intelligencer in the middle nineties that she had predicted the great Seattle fire of 1889—when Seattle was a wooden town with rather rudimentary fire protection.
All this advertising was run in the centered long-and-short line style, and set in a wide variety of clashing type faces. Newspaper "art" was, of course, still in its infancy. Most of the cuts were those little type-metal affairs, running about half the width of the column and used to decorate the upper left corners of the ads. There was, of course, an occasional full-width cut, such as that of the Indian already mentioned and of St. George slaying the dragon all over again to direct attention to the qualities of a particular bitters' whose peculiarly stimulating contents helped it maintain popularity right down into the "dry" days when a poor old contemporary, Jockey Club Gin, more frankly alcoholic, was barred out of print.
The intent, however, is not to criticise a most respectable pioneer newspaper, which in the same issue that contained this sort of thing, had about 150 individual advertisements, all of them reflecting the life and spirit of pioneer times and none of them, not even the liquor and medicine announcements, violating the ethical standards of the newspapers or the public of that day.
Two other advertisements attracted the attention particularly. They were the only ads in the paper enclosed within borders, which later were to become virtually universal (they had black rule around them), and they screamed broadcast a bit of the financial history of the times, indicating, furthermore, that both the advertiser and the publisher knew the weakness of the libel laws. And so the reader was informed, in advertisement No. 1 under the outspoken heading "Black List," that three men, their names prominently displayed, one of them from Walla Walla and the other two from Corvallis, had paid, respectively, $599, $1,105, and $603 in legal tenders at par for goods purchased at Gold Prices; they had, in other words, taken full advantage of a currency inflation after having agreed, tacitly or otherwise, to pay in gold. This statement, signed by C. N. Humiston, ran for several months without a comeback "peep" from the three men mentioned. The other advertisement of this nature, in a 1-col. 3-inch space on page 4, headed "The Same Old Greenback Case," told the public every week for months that the undersigned (G. W. Vaughn) was "still compelled to accept of legal tender notes at Par (and have been since December 17, 1862) for the rent of my handsome brick store, corner of Morrison and Front streets."
Mr. Vaughn gives the name of the renter in bold-face 8-point (brevier) capitals centered; says that the terms were to have been cash, and that depreciated currency was received regularly under pro test ("making two-fifths of the real amount he was to pay.") "I make this statement," concluded the outraged landlord, "to inform the public what kind of a man he must be to take such undue advantage of the times to convert a few dollars to himself by LEGAL SWINDLING. The public can readily see what it costs to have such tenants."
Neither was the old Oregon Statesman lacking in frankness in its advertising columns. There was that time when the disgusted publisher, under the heading "Poor Property," ran the names of five of his debtors, whose bills, running from $10 to $80, aggregated $223, and announced:
We will sell the following demands for the cost of the have used in making out the bills and writing dunning letters upon them. . . . We have a lot more of the same sort, and some rather better ones, which we will offer paper we for sale when we get tired of waiting to have them paid.
This advertisement was published March 27, 1855, at a time when the editorial column had a somewhat similar tone, reflecting the mood of the famous Asahel Bush.
One more paid notice, in the Statesman, under date of January 12, 1858, (Bush still at the helm):
Whar's "Prof." Van Dorf?
He left us in a fit of absent-mindedness owing the "Gem" small sum. Unless the "Prof." sends the proprietor of the "Gem" said bill, he must be permitted to consider him a liar and a scoundrel, as well as a humbug. Do you cumtux gin, cocktails, and cigars, Prof?P. D. Palmer.
Salem, January 6, 1858.1 w 44
EARLY OREGON EDITORS
The first editor of the Morning Oregonian was Simeon Francis, who had come out from Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln's home city (How often the name of Lincoln enters early Oregon history!) for the purpose of starting a newspaper. David Watson Craig, also formerly of Springfield, who had read law in the office of Lincoln and Herndon, had written him that there seemed to be an opportunity for a good daily paper in Portland. Craig had worked for Francis for four years as a printer while the future Oregonian editor was editing the Illinois State Journal. Finding the field occupied on his arrival in 1860, Francis went to work for Pittock as a printer on the Oregonian. For a time no name appeared as editor. Finally, on August 24, 1861, the name of Simeon Francis appeared in the masthead. He served as editor for about a year, resigning to become a paymaster in the army with the rank of major.
One of the early editorials in the Daily Oregonian under the editorship of Francis was one dealing with a subject much in the consciousness of Pacific Coast people in the early days of the Civil war—the proposed "Pacific Republic." The article, one of those combination news-editorials so common in those days, began:
While Senator Nesmith was in San Francisco on his way to Washington, he was waited upon by a committee, who stated to him that there was an organization of citizens in California, who had digested and matured a plan for establishing a Pacific Republic. The following were the leading features of the scheme:
[Texas and westward, including Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Sonora, California, and Oregon were to be included in the new republic. The organization was complete, in San Francisco under the auspices of the Knights of the Golden Circle, an order powerful in Texas and Arizona; and after the secession of the South they were to march on the states in Mexico to be acquired or conquered, then offer California and Oregon a partnership in the new republic.]
Nesmith told this to Gen. J. A. McDougal, who used it in a public speech at Sacramento. The general is a decided friend of the Union "as is."
This scheme occasioned considerable concern in the Northwest, and opposition to it was one reason why the father of George H. Himes, a youth then at the beginning of his long career as printer and publisher, persuaded his son not to enlist in the Union army after the firing on Sumter. The two met in the road when the son was on his way to town (Olympia) to see about enlisting. The elder man pointed out that friends of the Union were going to be useful, in all probability, right in their own front yards here at home. The Pacific republic scheme did not develop, but it was a threat.
Francis appears to have made a satisfactory editor for the new paper. His long experience in Illinois and his good general knowledge of newspapering made him highly useful to the new daily. He was succeeded in 1862 by Amory Holbrook, a leading lawyer characterized by Harvey Scott as "an able man but an irregular worker." George H. Himes, who came to the Oregonian from Olympia as a printer while Holbrook was still editor, gives a graphic portrait of him.
"Holbrook had a law office not far from the Oregonian," said Mr. Himes (3). "He was an able lawyer and had a good practice even while he was editor. He was a striking figure on the streets, in his high topper hat of rough material. I can still see him writing his editorials, as he often did, sitting down in some doorstep on the main street. The back of an envelope would do for copy paper; he seldom used the regular copy paper; and he would take off his high beaver hat and write against the flat top of it.
"His handwriting was clear, and easy to read, and I used to like to set it. His style was concise and compact." Holbrook was less fortunate than his predecessor in handling the local political situation, and his resignation came in 1864 after he had so far offended the Union party that a new paper called the Union was started (4).
Other editors in this period were John F. Damon and Samuel A. Clarke, who is much better known in connection with the Oregon Statesman and the Willamette Farmer.
Damon had before coming to Portland edited a newspaper in Port Townsend, Wash. Before that he had been a compositor for the publishing house which got out the works of Longfellow, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau. He was one of the fastest type setters that ever came to Portland; his average speed, hour after hour, Mr. Himes recalls, was 1800 ems. At San Francisco piece rates this would have paid him nearly $3 an hour. He is best remembered by all but the very old-timers as Seattle's marrying parson in the 90's—in which capacity his performance ran into record-breaking figures.
Among others who contributed editorial matter in the short pre-Scott period of the Morning Oregonian were H. W. Corbett, prominent Portland merchant, and Judge E. D. Shattuck, former instructor at the young Pacific University which had just graduated Harvey W. Scott as the only member of its first class.
Judge Shattuck had been editor of the Neivs, Portland's first daily paper, in 1859. Here was another New Englander prominent in early Portland. Born in Vermont December 21, 1824, he was admitted to the bar in 1852. In 1853 he occupied the chair of ancient languages at Pacific University, Forest Grove. This was three years before Harvey Scott entered the preparatory department at Pacific and ten years before his graduation.
Probate judge of Washington county in 1855, Shattuck later served in the Oregon constitutional convention, edited the News in 1859, and in 1862 was elected judge of the Oregon supreme court, serving five years. He was occupying this post when he supplied editorial copy to the Oregonian and recognized the possibilities of young Scott, who was studying law in Shattuck's office.
Holbrook's trouble with the Union party coincided with Pittock's clash with the printers, as told elsewhere in this volume.
Clarke, who had been serving as editor, succeeding Holbrook, from May to the end of September, 1864, was sent to Salem to two months reporting the legislature.
This took both him and Mr. Pittock, who was state printer, away from Portland at the same time, and Jim McCown, assistant foreman under Pittock, was more or less in charge of the paper. McCown used to obtain editorial contributions from Corbett, Shattuck, and others as previously mentioned. One day Judge Shattuck, who had been observing young Harvey W. Scott, Pacific's young graduate, then serving as city librarian while studying law, made the suggestion that this scholarly and studious young man, with whose record at Pacific University he was familiar, though he had not been one of his instructors, would be a likely source of good editorial copy.