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"The great temptation in commenting on this highly entertaining history is simply to repeat some of the excerpts from old newspapers that Dary has the good sense to quote so lavishly. They are salty, angry, foul-tempered, opinionated, unfair, misspelled and more fun to read than an entire year of contemporary op-ed pages."—Publishers Weekly.
"There's great fun here for students of Americana."—Seattle Weekly.
"Dary has mined the lode with another of his sweeping books about the creating of the West."—David Lavender, author of The Great West and Westward Vision.
"At long last, we have a proper assessment of the neglected role of the free press in the settlement of the American West. The newspaper publisher, editor, and printer (often all rolled into one) brought something that passed for civilization to each new and raw town on the frontier before schools or even churches could arrive. Only a few of them (Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Bill Nye) rose beyond anonymity, but all of them now have their Boswell in David Dary."—Richard Dillon, author of The Legend of Grizzly Adams.
"A significant contribution to the history of the American West."—Robert Utley, author of Billy the Kid and The Lance and the Shield.
SETTING THE STAGE
Our liberty depends on the freedom of
the press, and that cannot be limited
without being lost.
When Joseph Charless, an Irish refugee, established the Missouri Gazette at St. Louis in 1808, it was the first newspaper to be published west of the Mississippi River. The city then had a population of about a thousand, one-fifth of them Americans, the rest French. There were hardly enough people to support a newspaper, but Meriwether Lewis, governor of the Missouri Territory, encouraged Charless to start one since St. Louis did not have a printer of any sort, and Lewis needed someone to print the laws of the territory. He sent Charless, who was then in Kentucky, an advance of $225 in banknotes and a bill of exchange on the Bank of the United States to buy printing equipment, but the postrider carrying the funds to Charless drowned in an accident and the money was lost. Lewis considered the matter important enough that he then sent William Clark, whohad accompanied him on the exploration of the Louisiana Territory after Thomas Jefferson bought the vast region from France in 1803, to Kentucky to complete the negotiations with Charless.
When Charless arrived in St. Louis early in 1808, he distributed a printed prospectus telling residents of his plans to start a paper. He rented the north room of the house of Joseph Robidoux, the founder of St. Louis, ordered a Ramage printing press from Pennsylvania and type from Louisville, and made other preparations to begin operations. But Charless became ill, and publication of the paper was delayed until July 12, 1808, four days before his thirty-sixth birthday, when he and an assistant, a printer from Kentucky named Jacob Hinkle, published the first issue of the Missouri Gazette. It comprised four pages and was printed on foolscap (folded paper) sheets eight by twelve inches in size. Part of it was printed in French, the rest in English. The first issue had 174 subscribers who had paid, or promised to pay, the annual subscription price of three dollars in cash, or had pledged four dollars in such produce as flour, corn, beef, or pork. Six months after launching his paper, Charless was still using his columns to remind subscribers that some had failed to meet their pledges. He also urged new subscribers to pay in advance because it cost him "upwards of twenty dollars" to produce each issue, and "neither paper, types and ink could be had without cash."
Because revenues from subscriptions and advertising were skimpy, Charless made ends meet by doing job printing. Only three weeks after beginning publication, Charless was given an advance of five hundred dollars to publish 350 copies of the territorial laws. Rumors began to fly that the territorial government controlled the Missouri Gazette. In his columns on January 4, 1809, Charless stated that such reports were false, informing his readers that he was an independent guardian of the rights and liberties of the people.
When Charless arrived in New York City in 1796 from Ireland, he spelled his name Charles, pronounced "Char-les," with two syllables. But when he found people using only one syllable, "Charles," in addressing him, he added the final s to make sure they pronounced his surname to his liking. He worked for the Mifflin Gazette at Lewistown, Pennsylvania, but soon left and moved to Philadelphia, where he joined another Irish refugee, Matthew Carey, who owned a printshop. While employed in Carey's shop, Charless helped to produce there one of the first quarto editions of the Bible printed in America, something that remained a point of pride with him for the rest of his life. Charless's name appears on the title page of that Bible. In 1800, Charless moved west to Lexington, Kentucky, and with a partner, Francis Peniston, established the Independent Gazetteer, a paper first issued on March 29, 1803. Charless soon became sole owner of the paper, but in March 1804 he sold out to Thomas Anderson and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. There, in 1807, Charless established another paper, the Gazette and Western Advertiser, which he sold two years later when he moved to St. Louis and established the Missouri Gazette.
It had taken 150 years for a vigorous and independent press to develop along the eastern seaboard. At that rate, to a casual observer of the time, it would take another 200 years for the press to develop in the vast region between the original colonies and the Mississippi River. But a new spirit had captured the nation after the close of the American Revolution: In all walks of life people enjoyed a liberating sense of freedom, and a restless stream of humanity began moving westward. Most people followed the major waterways instead of trying the more difficult overland travel through trackless forests. Hands down, the most important route west was the Ohio River, which flows nearly a thousand miles from its origin in Pennsylvania through the rolling country of Ohio, across Indiana, and along the southern edge of Illinois, to where it runs into the Mississippi at Cairo. Numerous smaller rivers flow into the Ohio, including the Muskingum, Hocking, Scioto, Miami, and Wabash. Settlement along the Ohio between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River developed rapidly.
Following the settlers, and in some instances traveling with them, were printers like Joseph Charless, who pushed toward the setting sun, stopping, often by instinct, to unload their handpresses, cases of type, type sticks, supplies of paper, and other equipment and start a newspaper. The first newspaper established west of the Appalachian Mountains was the Pittsburgh Gazette, founded in 1786 by John Scull and Joseph Hall. They had their small press brought by wagon across the Alleghenies while their paper stock was transported by packhorse train to Pittsburgh, then a village of three hundred people. When they ran out of paper, they had to borrow the cartridge paper used in ammunition shells from the commandant at Fort Pitt to keep publishing. The situation improved eleven years later, when a small paper mill was established not far from Pittsburgh.
John Bradford, a surveyor who came west after the American Revolution, became the first person to set up a press within the boundaries of United States territory west of the Appalachian mountains and immediately south of the Ohio River. When Bradford, a Virginian, arrived at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1786, he was granted the free use of a lot on the condition he set up a printshop. He liked the arrangement and sent to Philadelphia for a press and printing equipment. In due time everything came by packhorse and wagon over the mountains to Pittsburgh and down the Ohio River some four hundred miles by flatboat to Limestone, Kentucky (then called Maysville), and again by horse and wagon to Lexington. Bradford then learned the basics of printing and published the first issue of the Kentucke Gazette on August 11, 1787, only thirteen years after the first English settlement at Harrodsburg, south of Lexington. The Kentucke Gazette was founded primarily to promote statehood for the territory. William Henry Perrin, a Kentucky historian of journalism, wrote in 1888 that during the paper's early years, copies "were taken to the different settlements by the postriders, and when it arrived the best reader among the inhabitants would mount a stump and never stop until he had read the paper through, advertisements and all."
Unlike John Bradford, however, most of the men who started early newspapers west of the Appalachians were experienced printers. George Roulstone, a native of Boston, had published newspapers in Massachusetts and North Carolina before starting the first paper (1791) in what is now Tennessee at Hawkins Court House, later renamed Rogersville. Roulstone named the paper the Knoxville Gazette because he intended to move it to Knoxville, which was to become the territorial capital in 1792. Roulstone published the first issue in Knoxville in May 1793.
Another printer from Kentucky, William Maxwell, holds the distinction of establishing the first newspaper north of the Ohio River and west of the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1787, six years before Maxwell's arrival, Congress created what it called the North-West Territory. A settlement called Losantiville was soon established where the Licking River joins the Ohio. When General Arthur St. Clair arrived to become governor, the name Losantiville did not please him, and he changed it to Cincinnati, the name of the Pennsylvania society of Revolutionary War officers of which he was president. Maxwell, a native of New Jersey and a veteran of the Revolution, arrived in Cincinnati with his small press and a few fonts of type and set up his equipment in a log cabin that stood on the corner of what are now Front and Sycamore Streets. There, on November 9, 1793, he published the first issue of the Centinel of the Worth-Western Territory, adopting the Boston spelling of "Centinel." His four-page paper was eight and a quarter by ten inches in size. On the third page, Maxwell told his readers he had mislaid the list of advance subscribers and asked them to call at the newspaper office for their copies. The Centinel's motto, borrowed by Maxwell from eastern newspapers, was "Open to all parties but influenced by none."
To the south in the Mississippi Territory, Benjamin M. Stokes, another printer, acquired a small press purchased in London in 1790 and brought to the region by an army officer to print the territorial laws. With the help of one R. T. Sackett, Stokes started the Mississippi Gazette at Natchez in September 1800. Still another printer, Elihu Stout, who had learned the printing trade from John Bradford in Kentucky, decided to start his own newspaper at Vincennes, located on the Wabash River in the Indiana Territory. On July 31, 1804, the first issue of Stout's Indiana Gazette appeared. Stout, a native of Virginia and boyhood friend of Patrick Henry, continued to publish the paper until 1806, when his office and printing equipment were destroyed by fire. He ordered a new press, type, and other equipment and resumed publication on July 4, 1807, renaming his paper the Western Sun.
Stout and other printers who established newspapers between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River were for the most part imitators, not originators. They were conformists who used eastern newspapers as their models and made do with what little mechanical printing equipment they had. Almost all their work was done by hand.
Their presses were made of wood and differed little from those used by Johann Gutenberg and his rivals nearly four hundred years earlier. Such individually made wooden presses were expensive, heavy, and cumbersome. The printer would push a bar that twisted a wooden screw attached to a plate to make the impression of inked type on paper. Whether printed sheets were uniform in appearance depended on the pressure exerted on the bar by the printer. The process was improved in 1796, when Adam Ramage, a Scottish immigrant working in Philadelphia, replaced the old-fashioned slow-moving wooden screw with a faster triple-threaded, rapid-motion screw and an iron bed and plate. This "toggle-and-lever" combination supplied more pressure on the impression, thereby providing printed sheets of uniform appearance. The Ramage press was stronger and faster to operate, and cost less, than the wooden presses. A printer could procure a new Ramage press and enough type to start a small paper for seven or eight hundred dollars, or a used Ramage and type for two or three hundred.
When Joseph Charless obtained a Ramage press to print the first issue of his Missouri Gazette in 1808, it was the only printing press west of the Mississippi, a distinction that lasted until 1815 when another press, probably a Ramage, was brought to St. Louis through the efforts of Charless's enemies. Although he made many friends in St. Louis, Charless remained an independent and outspoken editor. He criticized the military for its clumsy handling of campaigns on the frontier, during the War of 1812. He attacked the army for excessive drinking, gambling, and card-playing. He also rounded on the local courts for their treatment of Indians. And when, in February 1814, five or six armed men visited his office in an attempt to intimidate him, Charless defended himself with his shillelagh. The men left. But they were so angry that they raised a thousand dollars to start a competing paper, advertising for a printer in newspapers to the east of St. Louis. One of their advertisements, which appeared in the Lexington (Kentucky) Reporter, read:
TO PRINTERS: The people of St. Louis are desirable [sic] of procuring a printer at that place. A man of correct Republican principles with even moderate abilities would satisfy them, though it is unquestionable that the profits of a well-directed press would richly reward the labors of a man of genius and acquirements.
Charless's opponents succeeded in attracting Joshua Norvell, a printer and lawyer, who in May 1815 established the weekly Western Journal in St. Louis. But Norvell apparently was not the "genius" Charless's opponents had sought, because the paper failed sixteen months later, in September 1816, by which time Norvell had left for Arkansas. During the spring of 1817 a printer from Cincinnati, Sergeant Hall, established a new paper named the Emigrant and General Advertiser, but it also did poorly. In 1818 it was taken over by Isaac N. Henry, Evarist Maury, and Thomas Hart Benton and renamed the St. Louis Enquirer. Benton later became a U.S. senator from Missouri. Henry, Maury, and Benton apparently used the printing equipment and press Norvell had left behind.
Beyond St. Louis to the west there were no printing presses. The pattern of settlement continued to follow the major waterways, but large and deep streams were fewer in number west of the Mississippi. The chief tributary flowing eastward into the Mississippi is the Missouri River, starting in Montana and eventually joining the Mississippi just north of St. Louis. The close proximity of the mouth of the Missouri to St. Louis no doubt contributed to the increased settlement along the river. The population of the Missouri Territory doubled between 1804 and 1810, and by 1817 perhaps sixty thousand people called it home, most of them living close to the Missouri or in St. Louis and along the Mississippi. The settlement of Franklin was established in 1817 about 150 miles west of the Mississippi, on the north bank of the Missouri. Two years later the town of Boonville was founded on the south bank, opposite Franklin. On April 23, 1819, the first newspaper published west of St. Louis was established at Franklin by Nathaniel Patten, Jr., a native of Massachusetts, in partnership with Benjamin Holliday, Jr., a Virginian. Patten had learned the printing trade on a Boston newspaper. The four-page paper, printed on a Ramage press, was called the Missouri Intelligencer and Boon's Lick Advertiser. Its price was three dollars a year if paid in advance or four dollars if paid at the end of the year. The pages were eight by eighteen inches, with five columns to a page.
The first issue had about a hundred subscribers. The paper contained several advertisements, ranging from a notice of unclaimed letters at the post office to a woman's petition for separation from her husband because of desertion. Gradually Patten, who was the Intelligencer's editor as well as publisher, began including local news, such as the following item from the June 3, 1823 issue: "Within a few days past our river has risen to a height unprecedented in the memory of the oldest citizen of this country. It is now, however, slowly ebbing, and there is every reason to believe that the present rise will produce no unhappy effects." From the beginning Patten included much of the same fare printed by the St. Louis papers, which had in turn been clipped from eastern newspapers. From the October 7, 1825, issue: "A young lady of 18 was lately killed by lightning in Lebanon, Connecticut, and her breast shattered in a shocking manner--supposed to be in consequence of her wearing a steel corset. Have a care, ladies." Patten often used poetry to fill empty space in his paper, including the following verse:
"A Young Swain's Lament"
I wish I was the corset bone,
That's to thy lovely breast;
That I might be, both night and day,
To thy fair bosom prest.
I wish I was the china cup,
From which you drink your tea;
For then I know at every sip,
You'd give a kiss to me.
The first steamboat to ply the Missouri River was the Independence. Constructed at Pittsburgh especially for use on the shallow Missouri River, it took thirteen days to make the journey upstream from St. Louis to Franklin, arriving on June 5, 1819. The return trip downstream required only three days. Such steamboats soon brought more settlers up the Missouri River, and with them came more printers. By 1820 there were five weekly newspapers in Missouri, including two in St. Louis, and one each at Franklin, Jackson, and St. Charles.
While the Missouri Territory could claim five papers by 1820, the Arkansas Territory to the south, established in 1819, could claim only one. Soon after the latter was formed, William Edward Woodruff, a young printer then working in Tennessee, sensed opportunity there. He took a just-purchased printing press, type, and other equipment and set out by boat down the Cumberland, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers to the mouth of the White River. When Woodruff learned that the White River was not open for navigation, he lashed two canoes together, loaded his printing equipment on them, and poled the rest of the way to Arkansas Post, the territorial capital, located on the north bank of the Arkansas River. There, on November 20, 1819, Woodruff published the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette. When the capital was permanently moved to Little Rock, the paper moved too, publishing its first issue there on December 29, 1831.
The settlement of the region between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River was so rapid that ten new states were added to the Union between 1790 and 1821. Missouri was admitted in 1821 and Arkansas in 1836, as the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth states, respectively. But beyond the western borders of Missouri and Arkansas, there was little settlement for nearly twenty years. The region, labeled by explorers the Great American Desert, lacked major waterways deep enough to allow reliable steamboat travel. Most early explorers who crisscrossed the region had left the false impression in the minds of easterners that the land was not arable and that no civilized human could--or would--want to live where only Indians resided.
But far to the southwest of Missouri and Arkansas, in Spanish Texas, such misconceptions did not exist. Bernardo Gutierrez de Larta, an adventurer, brought a small army from Louisiana into what is now eastern Texas in August 1812, and declared the establishment of the Republic of Texas. With Gutierrez came his fellow adventurer Jose Alvarez de Toledo, who brought a printing press and several fonts of type. When Gutierrez was driven from Texas, the press was moved to Louisiana, although Alvarez soon returned to Nacogdoches, where in May 1813 he published El Mejicano, the first newspaper printed in Texas. It supported Mexican independence from Spain.
Six years later, in 1819, two Americans, Horatio Bigelow and Eli Harris--who had worked on newspapers in Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee--joined an expedition organized by Dr. James Long, an American angry that Texas had been given to Spain, to "Americanize" eastern Texas. Long declared Texas an independent republic and established his embryonic government in Nacogdoches. On August 14, 1819, Bigelow and Harris brought out the Texas Republican. The paper lasted two months, until the town was recaptured by Mexicans and the printing office destroyed.
After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, it was eight years until another newspaper appeared in Mexican Texas. Milton Slocum, a twenty-six-year-old printer from Massachusetts, established the Mexican Advocate in Nacogdoches in September 1829. He took the oath, required by the Mexican government, that he would not disturb the peace by publishing seditious material. Although no copy of the paper has survived, it is known to have been printed in both Spanish and English and to have promoted land purchase. That same year Godwin B. Cotten, a veteran newspaperman from New Orleans, started another weekly newspaper, the Texas Gazette, in San Felipe, a town founded in 1823 by Stephen F. Austin with the approval of the Mexican governor. The first issue of Cotten's paper contained four nine-and-one-half-by-twelve-inch pages, each of which had three columns. An annual subscription cost six dollars in cash or produce. The first insertion of an advertisement cost one dollar for ten lines and fifty cents for each subsequent insertion. Although Cotten claimed to be in his thirties, a contemporary later described him as "a genial old bachelor of fifty or thereabouts."
By 1827 Mexican authorities were trying to halt American immigration to Texas, but they had little success, and by the early 1830s about twenty thousand Americans had settled in Texas. After General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna became dictator of Mexico in 1823, American settlers in Texas set up a provisional republican government. Texians, as these settlers called themselves, then captured the Mexican stronghold at San Antonio. Meanwhile, Joseph Baker and Thomas H. and Gail Borden, Jr. decided to start a paper that would be "tool to no party, but would fearlessly expose crime and critical error wherever met with." Their paper, the Telegraph and Texas Register, was started at San Felipe de Austin on October 10, 1835, nine days after the first shot had been fired in the Texas Revolution. Early the following year Santa Anna gathered a large Mexican army and marched to recapture San Antonio, where Texians had fortified the Alamo. When word reached San Felipe that the Alamo had fallen, the Telegraph and Texas Register, on March 17, 1836, carried the first reports of the battle under a banner headline with the now famous slogan "Remember the Alamo." The reports were then picked up and reprinted by other newspapers throughout the United States. Later, when the Mexican army advanced toward San Felipe, the Telegraph and Texas Register was moved to Harrisburg. But Santa Anna and his army soon captured and burned that town as well, including the newspaper office, throwing the press and type into the bayou. (The press was later raised from the waters and used to print other Texas papers.) The Bordens and Baker escaped capture and quickly ordered a new press and more type from Cincinnati. On August 2, 1836, they reestablished their paper at Columbia, the first capital of the Republic of Texas.
To the north of Texas and west of Missouri and the Territory of Arkansas, Congress in 1830 had set aside a vast but indefinite area of the Louisiana Territory, some six hundred miles from north to south and two hundred miles in width, as a permanent home for Indians. Beginning in 1831, numerous tribes were moved from the states and territories east of the Mississippi into this unknown region, one of the most shameful acts in U.S. history. Nonetheless, along with the Indians came newspapers established by missionaries and teachers who ministered to the involuntary emigrants.
Among these missionaries was Jotham Meeker, who had been born in Hamilton County, Ohio, in 1804, and had learned the printing trade in Cincinnati when the town was less than two decades old. In 1825 Meeker's life was suddenly changed when he heard Robert Simerwell, a Baptist missionary to Indians, preach in Michigan. At the age of twenty-one Meeker himself became a missionary among the Potawatomie Indians in what is now southern Michigan. There he met Isaac McCoy, a Baptist minister and champion of the Indians, who headed the mission. In 1830, however, Meeker retired from his post, returned to Cincinnati, married a young woman who had also been a missionary in Michigan, and found work as a printer. Isaac McCoy left Michigan for the Arkansas Territory to work with the Cherokees along the Arkansas River. In 1831 McCoy persuaded Meeker to return to missionary work in Michigan, where the latter began to experiment with devising "for the Indian languages an orthography which might be written or printed with the ordinary characters" of the English language.
In the spring of 1833, Meeker was ordered to abandon his Michigan mission and to go to Indian Territory with a printing press and equipment, which he obtained in Cincinnati at a cost of $468.13. Meeker and his wife then traveled by steamboat to Independence, Missouri, near the big bend in the Missouri. From there they went overland to the new Shawanoe mission, located a few miles southwest of what is now Kansas City, Missouri. There, in January 1834, Meeker set up his printing press. To create written forms of Indian languages which had till then only been spoken, Meeker adapted the Roman alphabet to his purpose, assigning to various letters new sounds that existed in the given Indian tongue in the place of their usual English sounds. He spent much of his first year printing books for Indians and teaching them to read.
In 1835, having taught the Indians at the mission to read, Meeker published the Siwinowe Kesibwi, which in English means Shawnee Sun, the first newspaper to be printed wholly in an Indian language. Meeker, who kept a daily journal for about twenty years, made the following entries concerning the first issue of his monthly:
18 Commence setting types on the 1st No. of Shawanoe Sun ....
19 Composition on the Sun ....
20 Composition ....
21 Finish composition on the Sun--make up, and take proof.
23 Read proof & correct the Sun ....
24 Print the first No. of the Shawanoe Sun ....
25 Distribute types and clear up the office ....
26 ... Fold up all of the Sun. Very cold.
Meeker printed some hundred copies of the first issue of the Shawnee Sun. Johnston Lykins, another missionary, was listed as editor. The paper continued publication until about 1844. Meeker may have been the first printer in the world who had to teach his readers how to read before he could issue his newspaper.
Nine years after Meeker started the Shawnee Sun in eastern Kansas, two other Indian-language newspapers appeared more than a hundred miles to the south in what is now Oklahoma. The Cherokee Messenger began publication in August 1844 at the Cherokee Baptist Mission located near modern Westville. The paper was printed in Cherokee, listing Rev. Evan Jones as editor and H. Upham as printer, but it lasted for only thirteen issues. The following month another paper was issued at Tahlequah, printed in both English and Cherokee. It was called the Cherokee Advocate and was edited by William Potter Ross, a graduate of Princeton University and nephew of a Cherokee chief. Ross advised his readers in the first issue that the paper's subscription price was "three dollars per annum except to those persons who read only the Cherokee language, and they shall pay two dollars." Later all Cherokees who could not read English received the paper free.
By the 1840s the spirit that captured the nation following the American Revolution had resulted in the annexation of Texas and the addition of Oregon and California to the United States. These events reflected the sweeping nationalism often labeled "Manifest Destiny." For some Americans the spirit meant that the United States had a natural right to occupy all of the land between the Atlantic and Pacific. Many people believed it was their nation's foreordained destiny, and simply an extension of the freedoms enjoyed in a country only seventy years old. Others accepted their government's actions as testimony that God had granted the United States title to the vast region west and southwest of the Louisiana Territory.
When representatives of Mexico and the United States signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, the signers were unaware that gold had been discovered nine days earlier near Coloma, on the south fork of the American River in California. Had gold not been discovered, several decades might have passed before California attained the minimum population of sixty thousand needed for statehood. Of course the mass migrations to California created an almost immediate demand for news. Although Don Augustin Vicente Zamorano, secretary to the Mexican governor, had brought the first printing press to California during the summer of 1834, the first newspaper was not published until a dozen years later: on August 15, 1846, five weeks after the U.S. flag had been raised over Monterey and California was proclaimed a part of the United States. Walter Colton, chaplain of the U.S. frigate Congress and a onetime editor of the Philadelphia North American, decided to start a newspaper called the Californian at Monterey with the help of Robert Semple, a Kentuckian who stood at six foot eight in his stockings and dressed in buckskin with a foxskin cap. They were also assisted by Joseph Dockrill, a crew member from the Congress. It is possible Colton had acquired the old woodenframe Ramage press purchased in Boston by Zamorano and shipped to California twelve years earlier. In his diary on Saturday, August 15, 1846, Colton wrote:
To-day the first newspaper ever published in California made its appearance. The honor, if such it be, of writing its Prospectus, fell to me .... The press was old enough to be preserved as a curiosity; the mice had burrowed in the balls; there were no rules, no leads, and the types were rusty and all in pi [mixed together]. It was only by scouring that the letters could be made to show their faces. A sheet or two of tin were procured, and these, with a jackknife, were cut into rules and leads. Luckily we found, with the press, the greater part of a keg of ink; and now came the main scratch for paper. None could be found, except that used to envelop the tobacco of the cigars smoked here by the natives. A coaster had a small supply of this on board, which we procured. It is in sheets a little larger than the common-sized foolscap, and this is the size of our first paper, which we have christened the Californian.
Though small in dimensions, our first number is as full of news as a black-walnut is of meat. We have received by couriers, during the week, intelligence from all the important military posts through the territory. Very little of this has transpired; it reaches the public for the first time through our sheet. We have also, the declaration of war between the United States and Mexico with an abstract of the debate in the senate. A crowd was waiting when the first sheet was thrown from the press. It produced quite a little sensation.
The Californian was published each Saturday, one-half printed in English, the other half in Spanish. An annual subscription was five dollars, while a single issue cost twelve and a half cents. For many years the legend persisted among early California journalists that Colton printed his paper with Spanish type, which has no ws and therefore had to use two vs to form the letter w. But anyone who closely examines the early editions can see there is no truth to the legend. Colton simply did not have a sufficient supply of ws and resorted to using vs only after running out of ws.
On January 9, 1847, up the coast from Monterey at Yerba Buena, California's second paper, the California Star, was established by Samuel Brannan, a Mormon and native of Maine. He and a colleague, Edward Cleveland Kemble, had arrived at Yerba Buena in July 1846 by ship from New York, where Brannan had published two Mormon journals, The Prophet and the New-York Messenger. Kemble had been his assistant. Brannan brought with him his printing press and type, and a large supply of newsprint. The press and equipment were first located on the second floor of a mule-powered gristmill on what became Clay Street, between Montgomery and Kearny, in San Francisco, although before the first issue of the California Star was published, its printing office was moved to a newly constructed adobe building close to the Customs House.
Brannan had planned on starting a paper in California before leaving New York City. He had even had the masthead engraved. Shortly after they arrived, however, Kemble joined John Chares Fremont's battalion of volunteers and set off to conquer and annex California to the United States. Brannan then hired Elbert P. Jones, a lawyer from Tennessee, as temporary editor, who wrote in the first issue of the California Star, January 9, 1847, that while he was on "the editorial tripod, all private pique, personal feeling and jealousy will be laid aside."
When copies of the California Star reached Walter Colton, editor of the Californian at Monterey, he noted in his columns: "We have received the first two numbers of a new paper just commenced at Yerba Buena. It is issued upon a small but very neat sheet, at six dollars per annum. It is published and owned by S. Brannan, the leader of the Mormons, who was brought up by Joe Smith himself, and is consequently well qualified to unfold and impress the tenets of his sect." When Jones read the Californian's comments, he forgot his high resolve and wrote the following in the January 23, 1847, issue of the California Star:
We have received two late numbers of the "Californian" a dim, dirty, little, paper printed in Monterey on the worn out materials of one of the old California WAR PRESSES.
It is published [sic] and edited by Walter Calton [sic] and Robert Semple, the one a WHINING sycophant, and the other an OVERGROWN LICK-SPITTLE. At the top of one of the papers we find the words "please exchange." This would be considered in almost any other country a bare-faced attempt to swindle us. We would consider it so now were it not for the peculiar situation of our country which induces us to do a great deal for others in order to enable them to do a little good. We did think of charging the men of the Californian five dollars and seventy five cents "to-boot" between papers, but as it seems to be their determination to "hump" themselves in future, while on the editorial tripod, we have concluded to give our paper to them this year, so as to afford them some insight into the manner in which a Republican newspaper should be conducted. They appear now to be awfully verdant.
A review of the early issues of the paper as edited by Jones shows other such intemperate outpourings, but things changed after Edward Kemble was discharged from Fremont's army and returned in early April 1847 to work with Brannan on the newspaper. After Brannan went east, leaving Kemble in charge, Jones submitted a fierce editorial which was rejected by Kemble. As Kemble later recalled, "Then there was quickly arranged without music a lively and engaging waltz around the printing office to the utter consternation and discomfiture of types, 'formsm,' stools and everything that stood in the way." Kemble ejected Jones from the office. The April 17, 1847, issue of the California Star announced that Jones was no longer associated with the paper.
That same month at Monterey, Robert Semple became sole proprietor of the Californian and two weeks later moved the paper to San Francisco, which had just changed its name from Yerba Buena. Interestingly, the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in January 1848 was ignored by both the Californian and the California Star, perhaps because it was local news and readers already knew about it. The Californian did not print any mention of the discovery for nearly two months until on March 5, under a small one-line heading, "Gold Mine Found," the following short item appeared:
In the newly made raceway of the Saw Mill recently erected by Captain Sutter, on the American Fork, gold has been found in considerable quantities. One person brought thirty dollars worth to New Helvetia, gathered there in a short time. California, no doubt, is rich in mineral wealth; great chances here for scientific capitalists. Gold has been found in almost every part of the country.
The value of a gold rush to the economy perhaps spurred the California Star to publish an extra edition on April 1 telling of the discovery. Two thousand copies were sent to Missouri for distribution. Within a month gold fever had not only hit nearly all Californians but the nation as well. Both papers suspended publication because their printers and most of their San Francisco readers had left for the goldfields. Within months, however, San Francisco was a boomtown. Before 1848 ended, the two papers combined and, on January 4, 1849, became the Alta California. A little more than a year later, on January 23, 1850, the newspaper became a daily.
Journalism had arrived in the Far West. But in that vast and mostly unsettled region between Missouri and California, the prairie and plains and the Rocky Mountains had only been crisscrossed by explorers, mountain men, missionaries, traders, immigrants bound for Oregon or California, and a few journalists. The stage had been set. During the next half century, the spirit of the westward movement would see the settlement of the vast region from Texas northward to Canada, and from Missouri westward to the Pacific, and with the settlers would come printers to establish more newspapers in the traditions of those they followed.
Excerpted from Red Blood and Black Ink by David Dary Copyright © 1999 by David Dary. Excerpted by permission.
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1. Setting the Stage
2. No Weasel Words
4. Expressing Opinion
5. Town Booming
6. Pistol-Packin' Editors
7. Reporting the News
8. Personals and Miscellaneous
9. Death and Religion
10. Making a Living
12. Women and Printer's Ink
13. Tramp Printers
Appendix A: Printing Equipment Used in the Old West
Appendix B: Glossary of Printers' Terms
Appendix C: Early Newspapers in States and Territories West of the Mississippi