From an 1868 issue of Charles Dickens' magazine All the Year Round, London, England. The correspondent is unidentified.
There is not a town anywhere in the West of sufficient importance to be "reckoned a right smart chance of a city" without a local weekly, bi-weekly, or even daily newspaper. As it is impossible for the whole community to be of one mind in matters political, we generally find one devoted to the interests of the Democratic party, and a second to the well cherished opinions of the Republicans--these two parties dividing social affairs and public and private life in "the Far West."
Now, what do I mean by the Far West: a term often used, but with a most indefinite application? About New York, the term is applied to the region of which Chicago is the centre. If you go to Chicago you will find that the railway companies are advertising the "Far West" as Omaha. At Omaha, on the Missouri, Utah seems to be that bourne: while, again, at the city of the saints it is Oregon, or California,--somewhere about the Pacific at all events. Whether the people of the Pacific coast have any place where they "locate" the "Far West," it is hard to say; probably China and Japan would be about the nearest whereabout of that geographically-relative locality. The scene of the following sketches will lie, broadly speaking, in the region on either side of the Rocky Mountains; somewhere in the wilds of those new states and territories which are now and again springing up out of the wilderness; which are peopled by an ever-moving and adventurous people, not by any means barbarous, yet far from refined--in fact, of that peculiar type known well enough in those parts of the world as the "western man." It is with the ruder type of newspaper, produced in such out-of-the-way places as lie within the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas of California, or the Cascade Mountains of Oregon or Idaho, with their characteristics, and with their humour, that I propose to deal.
The flourishing state of ephemeral literature on the shores of the Pacific (associated as it will ever be in our minds with bowie knives and nuggets) cannot be better expressed than by stating, that in the city of San Francisco alone, numbering one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, and nineteen years ago consisting of only a few cotton tents on some sand-hills, there are published no fewer than forty-five periodicals, comprising ten dailies, eight monthlies, one semi-weekly, one tri-weekly, and two annuals. Of these, three are published in the German language, three in Spanish, and two in French. The gold of California has attracted men clever in every department of brain and handicraft, and, accordingly, we find these periodicals edited with good ability and even refinement. It is only when we get up in the interior that we find the western editor in all his crudity. Suppose that it should ever fall to the lot of a wise man of the East to ride some summer day into one of these quiet little western towns, situated on a prairie or by some river with a not euphonious name, where it is difficult to say when the town commences and the country ends, or which is which, and where the inhabitants, in their dolce far niente languor, seem to wish, like the lotus eaters, as they tilt their rocking chairs on the shady side of the street, in front of the "grocery" door, that "it was always afternoon." Before he has well taken off his jingling Mexican spurs, or imbibed a preliminary "drink" with the landlord of the "Ho-tel," he will be accosted by a shabby-genteel individual whom, by the shrewdly telling questions he puts, the traveller will have no difficulty in recognising as the local editor. If he has not done so already himself. Colonel Homer S. Smith, mine host, will soon take upon himself a western landlord's privilege, of introducing you to "Dr.," "Captain," "Judge," or "Mister Ossian E. Dodge, editor of the Swampville Flag of Liberty (and one of our most distinguished citizens, sir)." If he be not of the same way of thinking in political matters, it is immaterial, for this civility will only be delayed a few minutes until the opposition editor, from across the way, makes his appearance in his shirt sleeves to take his meridian "cocktail," and to squeeze out of the new arrival all the public news he may possess for the public good (in a professional way), or, true to his country, matters of private history for his own private satisfaction.
As you get better acquainted with your friend you will find that he is far from being such a truculent fellow as his leaders and "personal items" might lead you to suppose. He will hospitably ask you to "come up to my office. Cap.; write your letters there, sir;" and when you look into his office, which is generally press room, composing room, and study, with little furniture beyond a saliva-rusted stove, a spittoon, and a huge rocking chair of cheap construction, you will find that it seems to be a general loafing place for the more idle of the citizens of the political opinions which the "Flag" professes. There they are, all smoking, chewing tobacco, eating apples, or ruminating with chair tilted back, or sitting on the step in front of the office door, only occasionally moving over to the neighbouring bar room to "put in a blast," or "to hist in a drop o' pisin." The editor will now and then, if not better employed, rush out to ask a passing acquaintance "if he has not such a thing as an item about him," or will bolt round the corner of the street to pump a rusty gold miner who has just now wearily trudged into town for the week's supply of pork and beans. Shortly afterwards, you will see the two adjourning to "take a drink;" or, if news from the diggings at "Mad Mule Cañon," or "Shirt Tail Bar,"* [*Well-known mining localities in California.] is of a particularly spicy character; the miner will adjourn to the office. There his news will be "set up" in due course, and he will be invited to "take a char," [sic] doubtless not only in hospitality, but also with eye to the policy of keeping him out of the way of the "opposition," already on the qui vive; for in these dull, die-away mining or rural villages in some mountain valley of the Far West, a man with news is an important personage, and comports himself (most properly) as one from cities. The telegraph and the mail may bring matters of general interest to all alike, but the local items of a "difficulty" down at Greaser's Camp or a gold "strike" in Black Jack's Claim at Yuba Dam* [*Well-known mining localities in California.] are matters which must be picked up by that most industrious individual, the "local" editor, or as he is called in other places, "reporter." If the paper is going to press, and there is a dearth of "items" under the column "local," there is nothing for it but to extemporise some, or resort to that unfailing remedy of a newsless editor, write letters on local grievances to himself, and answer them in the next issue. In many years' wanderings about the less settled portions of the slopes of the Rocky Mountains I have had much intercourse--pleasant, on the whole--with the western editor. Scattered through my note-books are various memoranda illustrative of these rough "spurtings" of literary effort in a roughly organised state of society. The editor works to please the public, and from the paper can generally be drawn a tolerably fair picture of the community for which it is produced, tinctured, of course, with more or less of the individual peculiarities of the presiding spirit. I must, in honesty, explain that no one need expect in a few glances over a single file of western newspapers to find so many strongly marked characteristics as occur, within narrow limits, in a gathering like mine; for that contains picked specimens culled at wide intervals. On the other hand, I can assert that as they were not gathered with any special object in view, they are fairly representative, and in no case is there the slightest exaggeration.
The editor himself has generally been brought up as a printer, and not unfrequently in case of accident will "set up" and "work off" his own leader. Not unfrequently "he puts in his time at case;" and if he be of a speculative turn of mind, drives the stage coach, or "runs" the hotel; but oftener, he is a local attorney, filling up his spare time with politics, and possibly sits in the territorial legislature. There is not, I believe, a politician of any eminence in this wise, who at one time or other has not been a printer or a lawyer: the former generally graduating into the latter, as the world deals more kindly with him or ambition pricks him on. He very seldom sticks to the editorial desk, but gravitates with western versatility into some other more lucrative line of business. If he be sufficiently talkative, he takes to politics, and "runs" for the local legislature or the district judgeship; or, if muscularly inclined, you will find him working in a mining claim, or engaged in fulfilling a contract to "blaze" a trail.
The first thing which attracts attention in the little dirty-looking, ill-printed sheet, is its astounding personality; that personality being generally not so much directed against the other party, or even against the rival paper as representing the other party, as against the editor of it in his private capacity. Every western editor's name is prominently printed at the head of his paper, and instead of talking as he of the Eatanswill Gazette might, of our "contemptible contemporary the Journal," the Western paper talks of "that low-lived hound, Cephas E. Slocum, who edits the miserable two-bit thing* [*One bit (fivepence to sevenpence), and two bits (one shilling), being about the ordinary price of a single newspaper to the west of the Rocky Mountains: the former is the lowest coin in general circulation. However, if taken by the week, the usual subscription for a daily paper is only one shilling, delivered.] over the way."
The editor of a San Jose paper quarrels with another editor. Listen to his description of his friend's character: "He is a professional loafer, and may generally be seen round drinking saloons, not only at election times, but for years after. He makes a game of politics, and plays as he would a game of short cards or cut throat monte to win. He wears his hair short--a style known as the 'fighting cut'--that he may be always ready for a scrimmage, and that his adversary may take no undue advantage. The preponderance of his brains is located between his ears. His countenance is concave, and one or both of his eyes are usually in 'mourning' from the effects of his last fight. He is 'powerful' in ' primaries,' where he votes early and often, for his favourite candidates, succeeds and calls the nomination regular. In the matter of piety, long prayers, &c., that is entirely out of his line. Cursing is more especially his forte. He can tell the difference between a whisky straight and a gin cocktail with his eyes shut, and can snuff a treat two blocks off. He spends his money with -------, and makes it a point of honour never to pay an honest debt. He accepts office for the sake of the stealings, and is loyal because it pays best!"
There is no joke here; the man is perfectly in earnest, as none who knew the pair of worthies would for a moment doubt. Nothing can more thoroughly express this personality, as well as the absolute dearth of local news in a mountain newspaper in Nevada, than the following from the Virginia Enterprise: "We observe that Brier, local* [*i.e., local editor, or reporter.] of the News, has on a new coat. If we remember right, there was a dry goods store burnt out a short time ago, and that a number of coats which were put on the street for safe keeping, after having been saved from the fire, were missing. Of course we don't intend to cast any reflection, or to say that Brier nipped any of them. Oh no!" Another indignantly states that it "would take the auger of common sense longer to pierce into a certain editor's brain than it would take for a boiled carrot to bore through the Alps." After this elegant burst of eloquence, we may be prepared to learn that William T. Dowdall, an Illinois editor, having "read" Brick Pomeroy out of the Democratic Party; the latter replies by calling Dowdall an "idiotic swill-headed chunk;" whereupon Dowdall calls Brick a "Pandemoniac paste-pot cut-throat." The editor of the Oakland News offers a handsome apology to the editor of his San Leandro contemporary for a typographical error in calling him a "donkey;" he meant a "monkey!" Sometimes these personal pen-battles are a little more truculent. There is a well-known editor "out west," of the name of Prentice. Prentice is never known to be put out; and accordingly Mr. Smith (we shall call him), of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, made a fatal mistake when he penned the following: "Prentice is a liar, and we shall tell him so when we meet him!" Prentice thus replies in his next paper: "Ah! Will you, Mr. Smith? About that time there will be a funeral, and the Smith family will be the principal mourners!"
The following is more in the highly jocose way, and coming from a village in the vicinity of San Francisco, is characteristic enough, "Wanted, a calaboose.* [*Jail.] M'Quillan, of the Parajo Times, is earnestly petitioning the board of supervisors for a calaboose, which institution, he argues, is sadly wanted in the town of Watsonville. We once spent a week in Watsonville, and we have no hesitation in saying that M'Quillan's head is quite level on the calaboose question. A calaboose is sadly needed in that locality." So says the Dramatic Chronicle; to which the editor pointedly referred to as "M'Quillan," replies in parenthesis at the end of a reprint: ("Yes, we remember your visit here, which suggested to us the necessity of a calaboose.") My friend, the Hon. W. P. H. [John Webster Perit Huntington], is well known in North-West America as the active superintendent of Indian affairs in Oregon, and was at one time editor, and is still proprietor, of the Oregon Statesman. On one of his tours, he captured the wives of the great war chief, Pahnine, of the Shoshones, who had for eight years waged continual war against the whites, accompanied with most merciless outrages. These women were held as hostages, and the result was that in the ensuing summer the chief sued for peace, and Mr. H., with the officers of the Indian department, and a party of friends, of which the writer of these pages formed one, journeyed along the region of the Snake River to deliver them up in state. Our astonishment was great, to find our doings subsequently recorded in the opposition paper as follows: "Bill H., editor of the Statesman, went up Snake River, last week, with three squaws," the notion evidently being to lead those at a distance who did not know the official character of the journey to suppose that "Bill H." was a person of very immoral life, who consorted in trigamic concubinage with aboriginal ladies, and that the Statesman must be a vile paper to have such an editor.
Some years ago I passed an evening at the Dalles of the Columbia River: a locality well known to all readers of early adventure beyond the Rocky Mountains. It is now a little village ("city," of course, they call it) on the highway to the mines of Idaho. It was crowded on this particular night with travellers. Among the motley throng were various newspaper men bound to the mines, either to canvass for their papers, correspond, or generally to look around. Among others, I was introduced to an exceedingly pleasant gentleman called Mr. Samuel Bowers, editor of a Portland paper. He was an excellent fellow, affable and pleasant, and, after the manners and customs of the country, we had many "drinks" together. I believe we engaged to correspond. What was my delight when the Dalles Mountaineer, the weekly paper, came out next morning to find the following anent my friend of the evening before, who was now on his way up the Columbia River: "Miners look out! Among other rogues, thieves, cutthroats, rowdies, and blackguards generally, whom we noticed in the city last night was Sam Bowers, who has figured in the role of newspaper editor, school-fund thief, et cetera. We believe that he is on his way to the mines, in which case the honest miners had better look sharp, else Sam will bilk them sure!" I expressed a little surprise to the friend who had introduced me. "Oh," was the reply, "that's nothing. Sam, perhaps, ain't much on the pray, but still he's not such a bad coon; but he differs in politics with the folks in this quarter. Watch the Umatilla and other up-river papers, and see what they say." I did watch them, with this result, that the paper in the next village on the river, above the Dalles (after a fashion very common in the western newspapers--I suppose for the sake of filling up) copied out the item, with the commentary: "Sam passed through here the other day--nothing missing!" To which the next weekly adds, "Sam passed through here on Thursday, but as far as we can learn without injury to the portable property of any of our citizens. There was talk about a child's rattle and a red-hot stove, but we believe the rumour was without foundation." So, another editor apologises to another for calling him a miserable thing he meant a nothing; and the editor of the Solano Press calls his brother of the Herald "an absurd ass, a contemptible cur, a dirty dog, and a liar." Equally parliamentary is the language of the Oregon Statesman in reference to a contemporary: "We republish today a vile, degraded, infamous, and execrably atrocious lie from the columns of the Daily Oregonian. Next week, when time and space will permit, we shall reply to it. For the present, suffice it for the low, vulgar, foul-mouthed, and unrefined hound to know that our eye is upon him, and he cannot escape us." The Solano Press is apparently of a "fierce nostril" and anxious for a fight. Woe betide the unfortunate wight who differs with it in opinion even though the opinion be not political, but on the serious business of the best route to a certain mining locality. I remember a newspaper correspondent (as harmless a man as need be, I well know) who ventured to hint that there was a better route to the Idaho mines than by passing up the Columbia. His advice, if followed, would be to the detriment of the Columbia River towns. With what unanimity was he abused! No attempt was made at argument: it was the old endorsement of the brief, "No defence; abuse plaintiff's attorney." The Oregonian suggested that "Some charitable packer* [*Muleteer, who "packs" or carries goods to the mines or elsewhere.] had given him the privilege of riding the 'Bell mare,' and had generously offered him a blanket to cover his miserable carcase." The last I heard of this unfortunate young man was the suggestion of the Umatilla Tri-weekly Advertiser: "That the flunkey must have lingered along the road scouring knives and washing dishes. That he never paid for a meal is evident from his statement of the prices charged," &c., &c. Here below is a piece of fine writing from an editorial in a Californian mining paper: "Let vagabonds howl and traitors hiss; let the breeders of bloodhounds to track and tear Union refugees bay like their own dogs; let the smitten maniacs who cursed Johnson till he turned traitor, also vomit new blasphemies against the holy name of liberty; let foul lust, and lazy pride, and insolent and testy spleen, and self-conscious envy and gleaming hate, and blear-eyed prejudice, and besotted ignorance, and porcine brutality stir every cesspool with their asinine vociferations till every club-room of Democracy reeks like an omnium gatherum of stenches!"
I regret to say that many of these gems of far-western periodical literature are occasionally not only scurrilous on the individual attacked, but verge on the sacred precincts of the family circle: holding up to public scorn the foibles and weakness of the female members of the family of the individual attacked, and even occasionally being so openly coarse and indecent as to preclude their being noticed in this place. Probably, no one likes, when "running" for the honourable office of congressman or supreme state judge, to have it shown in a newspaper how, in an early portion of his career, he murdered his grandmother, and ignominiously buried her in the back kitchen. Mr. "Artemus Ward," himself a quondam "newspaper man," has exactly struck this nail on the head when he represents in the "controversy about a plank road," this attack upon the editor of the Eagle of Freedom. The passage is worth quoting as an epitome of a system:
"The road may be, as our contemporary says, a humbug; but our aunt isn't baldheaded, and we hav'nt got a one-eyed sister Sal! Wonder if the editor of the Eagle of Freedom sees it. This used up the Eagle of Freedom feller, because his aunt's head does present a skinned appearance, and his sister Sarah is very much one-eyed. We have recently put up in our office an entirely new sink, of unique construction, with two holes, through which the soiled water may pass to the new bucket underneath. What will the Hell hounds of the Advertiser say to this? We shall continue to make improvements as fast as our rapidly increasing business may warrant. Wonder whether a certain editor's wife thinks she can palm off a brass watch-chain on the community for a gold one."
A paper in Vancouver Island used to style its evening contemporary "the night cart."
Though a vast portion of a western newspaper might, without a very great stretch of adverse criticism, be styled personal, yet, by emphasis, in the "local item" column, you can see every now and then paragraphs entitled "Personal." These paragraphs refer to the business of private individuals in contradistinction to others relating to the public weal. What they are, may be judged by the following "personal" welcoming home of a prominent citizen:
"Mr. Joe Tritch arrived home last night with the stage. He has on a new suit of State clothes, including a fine plug hat. He looks the dogondest cuss ever since Jim Ford left; but, nevertheless, we are glad to see him, and hope he will settle down, and behave himself."
The following is peculiarly national in its curiosity:
"Nathan E. Wallace and Charlie Henry went up to Fort Langely last night business unknown."
As might be expected, such personalities occasionally lead to hostile encounters between rival editors and their readers. Most frequently these consist only in a thrashing on either side, and I fancy very few western editors have missed having a difficulty of that sort at one time or another on their hands. I possess a scrap-book kept by Mr. B. Griffin, of Victoria, in the earlier years of California, and such items as the following are not unfrequent: "Collision between H. A. De Courcey, Esq., editor of the Calaveras Chronicle, and Mr. W. H. Carter;" "Affair of honour between W. H. Jones and Salucius T. Slingsby;" "Editorial Difficulty Down at Santa Clara--Man Shot," &c. John King, of William, editor of the San Francisco Herald, was shot by a rowdy, whom he had attacked in his paper. His death may be said to have been the origin of the Vigilance Committee, which, with a lawless justice, created comparative peace and order where anarchy and villainy had reigned. I heard a story about a new editor who had come to a place which was infested with a gang of ruffians. Before his face was generally known, he attacked those men most violently in his paper. One day, as he was sitting in his office after having published a particularly severe article, a stalwart individual, brandishing a whip in his hand, rushed in and inquired for the editor. Suspecting evil, he asked the visitor to be seated, and he would call the editor, who had just stepped out for a minute. On his way down-stairs he met a second individual carrying a bludgeon, and likewise inquiring vigorously for the editor. "Oh, sir, he is sitting in his office up-stairs. You'll find him there." When he next peeped into the office, the two were belabouring each other thoroughly, rolling over and over, and each fancying that he had the editor in hand. I tell the story for what it is worth; and do not pretend to guarantee its exact truth.
Doolittle, a Southern editor, held his post for six months, and in that time was stabbed twice, shot three times, belaboured with a bludgeon once, thrown into a pond once, but was never kicked. During his six months' experience he killed two of his adversaries. All these are absolute facts. When Isaac Disraeli wrote the Quarrels and Calamities of Authors, he must assuredly have known nothing of western newspaper life, otherwise a chapter ought to have been added to both books. As a set-off, the "local" of the Memphis Bulletin jestingly sums up his year's experience as follows:
Been asked to drink . . . 11,393
Drank . . . 11,392
Requested to retract . . . 416
Didn't retract . . . 416
Invited to parties, receptions, presentations,
&c., by people fishing for puffs . . . 3,333
Took the hint . . . 33
Didn't take the hint . . . 3,300
Threatened to be whipped . . . 174
Been whipped . . . 0
Didn't come to time . . . 170
Been promised bottles of champagne,
whisky, brandy, gin, bitters, &c., if I
would go after them . . . 3,650
Been after them . . . 0
Going again . . . 9
Been asked, "What's the news?" . . . 800,000
Told . . . 13
Didn't know . . . 200,000
Lied about it . . . 90,987
Been to church . . . 2
Changed politics . . . 32
Expected to change still . . . 33
Gave for charity . . . $ 5 00
Gave for a terrier dog . . . 23 00
Cash on hand . . . 00 00
Everybody advertises in the West, professional men as well as
tradesmen, and it is mainly owing to this extensive advertising
business that so many of the local newspapers subsist. It is always
expected that the editor should call attention in the body of the
paper to the advertisement when first inserted, and accordingly you
continually see such notices as the following: "We call our
readers' attention to the auction of boots and shoes by our fellow
citizen, Washington Hubbs, which appears in our advertising columns
this day. Wash is pretty tonguey, and generally persuades folks to
buy." Or, "Our readers will observe that Messrs. Caleb Johnston and
Co. have opened a restaurant on the corner of Jackson* [*In Sacramento the streets are
named A to B and First, Second, Third,
and so on; monotonous, no doubt, but still a relief to the everlasting
Washington, Jackson, Fremont, Kearney, &c. streets.] and Fremont Street, where the
tallest sort of feeding may be had at all hours at
the lowest possible cost to the spondoolics.* [*Money.] We advise our
give Caleb a call." Advertisements of hotels, with an initial letter of
a Noah's ark like house, or of mule and horse dealers, and hirers,
figure extensively. What would
the London Times say to the following, which I cut from the Idaho
Statesman.* [*June 13, 1865.] The advertiser is apparently aggrieved on
the head of some
rivals running an unfair competition with him: