Eugene, Lane County, Oregon
Eugene, Lane County, Oregon
James Fance Amis created the Broad-Axe Tribune [LCCN: sn96088145] in March of 1894, two years after the Oregon People’s Party was founded, solely to champion the Populist Party, or People’s Party, which emerged as a political reaction to the financial and social struggles felt by the American working class in the years after the Civil War. Gaining support in the late 19th century, the movement spread to Oregon in the 1890s but failed to achieve any significant influence. Nonetheless, the Populist Party was still an attractive ideology, especially to farmers of the Willamette Valley who “had long suffered at the hands of transportation monopolies and credit markets,” and Populism certainly had its bulldogs in Oregon. Once the populist movement faded and merged with other political ideologies, so too did the Broad-Axe dissolve.
Amis was born in Kentucky around 1827 and fought in the Mexican-American War in the 1840s. He eventually moved to Oregon, settling in southern Eugene. He was the city’s first Justice of the Peace and served as a Representative of Lane County in the state government from 1870-72. At this point he began to frequently correspond with Joseph Lane, the first territorial governor of Oregon and fellow veteran. He was a politically active man whose own leanings began to align with the burgeoning Populist Party in the late 1800s.
Frustrated with the political complexion of the state and, especially, with the abuse being laid upon the Populist Party, Amis’ publication was meant to defend Populist ideas and act as platform to promote the party’s principles. This was no easy feat, as the Eugene City Guard [LCCN: sn84022653], the Eugene Oregon State Journal [LCCN: sn83045535], the Eugene Register [LCCN: sn96088117], the Cottage Grove Bohemia Nugget [LCCN: sn96088074]and several other newspapers ridiculed the very idea of starting a Populist paper and claimed the Broad-Axe “had but a hat full of type, was an anarchist sheet and should not be sustained.”
The paper began as a four-page weekly, costing subscribers $1.50 a year. Sometime between November of 1894 and the following June, Amis dropped “Tribune” from the title and the paper was published simply as the Broad-Axe [LCCN: sn96088146]. Along with the new name, the Broad-Axe reduced its price to $1.00 a year and Amis’ son joined as a publisher. The paper reported heavily on national and local government and printed information on Populist Party meetings, elections and events. Issues of importance to the political movement, like the gold standard and labor laws, were also heavily covered. Short news items of general interest would appear on the last page and little, if any, attention was given to agricultural and societal news.
True to his word, Amis used the publication to not only promote and defend Populist ideas but to also attack the predominately Republican political leanings of the state government. The name “Broad-Axe” was specifically chosen to reflect the combative attitude the paper had to assume due to the journalistic hostility the publication faced. With regard to the title, Amis stated in 1900 after the paper’s dissolution, “Fight? Yes we had to fight! And what better weapon than the Broad-Axe?”
Amis was a staunch, diligent, and forceful defender of the political movement, and this attitude would allow him both advocates and enemies in the realm of journalism. In 1895, the Salem Capital Journal [LCCN: sn99063954] stated that “Colonel Amis, of the Eugene Broad-Axe, has taken a snorter of his favorite brand of Kentucky Bourbon, set his liberty cap at an angle of 45 degrees, and unsheathed his people’s party poniard on the state university.” The Bohemia Nugget called the Broad-Axe a “journalistic monstrosity” and described “Jimmy” himself as “an old huckster who is dying of a broken heart because of non-patronage.”
The paper struggled to stay afloat during its six year span, and in 1896 the Broad-Axe briefly suspended publication due to the “stringency of and scarcity of money and general stagnation of business.” The paper continued to flounder despite absorbing the Eugene Weekly Record [LCCN: sn97058448] in January of 1899. On November 24, 1899, the Toledo Lincoln County Leader [LCCN: sn85033162] resolutely declared that the “Broad-Axe has been ground down until it isn’t much bigger than a hatchet.”
On March 7, 1900, Amis discontinued the Broad-Axe and instead began printing the Weekly Citizen [LCCN: 2013260000]. In the first issue of the Citizen Amis writes, “The populist people are now treated with respect and their paper is allowed to go along like other papers without a constant display of arms with which to defend itself. Its editor, too, is less belligerently inclined. He no longer sees the necessity of fighting and feels more like being a nice old man of peace, a good and quiet ‘Citizen’ than one bearing about on his shoulder a Broad-Axe all the day long… Again as you know we have reduced the dimensions of the Axe to such an extent that many have called it ‘The Hatchet’ which we feel is probably proper and just. Hence in a few words we have “buried the hatchet” and from out its tomb has come ‘The Citizen.’ And how do you like it?”
Prepared with reference to:
Lipin, Lawrence. “Populism in Oregon.” Oregon Encyclopedia – Oregon History and Culture. Portland State University, n.d. Web.
“Old Letters Donated to U of O,” Coquille (Oregon) Valley Sentinel, February 15, 1973.
Oregon Legislative Assembly Senate. Journal of the Senate Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of Oregon, Sixth Regular Session: 1870. Salem, Oregon: T. Patterson, 1870.
Rowell, Geo. P. American Newspaper Directory. 16th ed., New York: Geo. P. Rowell and Co, 1884-1909.
Turnbull, George S. History of Oregon Newspapers. Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1939.
United States Census, 1880. Year: 1880; Census Place: South Eugene, Lane, Oregon; Roll: 1081; Family History Film: 1255081; Page: 243A; Enumeration District: 065; Image: 0696. Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Walling, Albert G., ed. Illustrated History of Lane County, Oregon. Portland, Oregon: Printing House of A. G. Walling, 1884.
–Written by Emily Vance