Pendleton East Oregonian
Not long after starting up the Pendleton East Oregonian in October of 1875, publisher M.P. Bull took the unusual step of offering to his subscribers a bonded guarantee that they would not be cheated out of their money. This reflects the reality that paying upfront for a year’s worth of newspapers could be a risky investment in frontier days, when cash money was always scarce and many start-up papers went out of business after only a few months. But Bull proved true to his word, as his East Oregonian made it through its first year, attracting a cadre of local advertisers and presumably satisfying everyone on the subscription rolls. Political tensions began to surface, however, as it became evident that Bull intended to publish a thoroughly Democratic paper, while the majority of his advertisers were Republican businessmen. By October of 1877 some believed that Bull’s partisan loyalties were beginning to waver, so a group of local Democrats pooled their funds to purchase the paper and keep it away from rival hands. The prominent local businessman Lot Livermore thereafter withdrew his support from the East Oregonian and instead backed a Republican paper, the Pendleton Independent.
James H. Turner, who had been an at-large delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1876, was principle investor in the new East Oregonian Publishing Co. and assumed the mantle of editor. In 1880 he brought aboard Lewis Berkeley Cox as editor, publisher and half-owner. Cox was to put in only a brief tenure before moving on to a distinguished career in law, but he made a number of improvements to the product—not least, doing away with the ready-print content that had heretofore made up half the paper. The next editor-publisher, Charles Christie, came aboard with a pledge that he had no intention of stomaching the “personal journalism” (a euphemism for ad hominem attack) that was commonly practiced on Oregon editorial pages in those days. A few weeks later, he abruptly announced his retirement due to “ill-health.”
Cox returned to the fold and ran the paper till January 1882, when the East Oregonian was acquired by a young emigrant from Virginia, Charles Samuel Jackson. Sam Jackson had arrived in Pendleton just two years earlier, friendless and running short of funds, but he had quickly established a name for himself in the community. He was by all accounts a local “character” with an oversized reputation for eccentric behavior and self-effacing humor, coupled with honest business acumen. In his elder years, Jackson would be profiled in the “Who’s Who And Why” column of the November 2, 1911 Saturday Evening Post. Here such facts were revealed as: before coming west, the young Jackson had truly believed that Oregonians sported webbed feet; he had always refused to carry a gun, even in the rough-and-tumble frontier days; and he had gotten his first job in Pendleton when the hiring man took sympathy on him for being “as homely as Abraham Lincoln.”
While a teenager back east, Sam Jackson had used an allowance from his father to purchase a set of type and a small hand press, which he then used to print jobs for friends and neighbors, turning a modest profit. Just twenty-one years old when he took over the East Oregonian, Jackson brought a similar spirit of hard work and ingenuity to his first real newspaper job. Over the next two decades, he would do much to expand the scope and quality of the paper, as well as tirelessly promoting the interests of Pendleton and the people who called it home. On March 1, 1888 the first issue of the Daily edition appeared, fulfilling Jackson’s fondest ambition for his paper. Jackson’s salutation indicates that he himself viewed this as something of a wild undertaking—“[we plan] to make it as much of a newspaper, as nearly a newspaper, as is possible in a town of this size,” he wrote—yet the East Oregonian has endured as a daily paper down to the present day.
In 1902 Jackson purchased a second title, the Portland Oregon Daily Journal [LCCN: sn85042444 ], with plans of turning it into a paper of broad interest and statewide circulation. Before moving on to Portland, he appointed a young assistant, Fred Lockley, with instructions to manage the East Oregonian and also to travel throughout the rural east on horseback, drumming up subscribers for the retooled Oregon Journal. Lockley proved so successful in this later endeavor that Jackson eventually balked at the size of the subscriptions list; the Journal was not yet positioned to meet this sudden demand. He decided that Lockley’s new customers should instead be served by the East Oregonian. Jackson advised Lockley to keep up his rural travels, but with the new purpose of collecting stories for the East Oregonian. Thus it became not just Pendleton’s paper, but a truly regional paper, with a correspondent improbably assigned to a wide-ranging “beat” in the days of horseback and wagon travel! This was to be the colorful beginning to Fred Lockley’s long and distinguished reporting career; as late as 1939 he was still publishing a weekly interview feature in the Oregon Journal.
Throughout the changes of ownership and editorship that marked its formative years, the East Oregonian was always able to maintain a good reputation as a consistently readable and “newsy” paper. No doubt this reputation for quality played no small part in its longevity—the paper affectionately known as the ‘E.O.’ is the only Umatilla County newspaper from the 19th century to have been continuously published without suspensions or changes in title.
— Written by Jason Stone