The Douglas Independent
Roseburg, Douglas County, Or.
A successor of the Roseburg Ensign [LCCN: sn93051627] and the Roseburg Pantagraph [LCCN: sn85033160], the Douglas Independent was first published in Roseburg, Oregon, by John W. Kelly in April 1875. Although Kelly was a noted adherent of the “Oregon Style” of journalism, which was defined by highly politicized writing, the paper mostly remained true to its name, criticizing Democrats and Republicans alike. As the masthead on early issues indicated, the editors certainly did aspire to be “Independent in all things; Neutral in Nothing.”
Most articles expressed suspicion of party politics and lamented corruption in government. The Independent called for a return to principle and honesty in political discourse. Believing that most politicians and voters blindly upheld party doctrine, the publishers of the paper stated that “principles, not men” are needed to curb greed and corruption. Fearing that partisanship compromised democratic logic, the paper was very critical of voters who supported candidates solely because of their political affiliation. Observing campaigns during district and supreme court elections in Oregon, the paper remarked, “beware of a political judge…such a judge is a politician and a trader for office, a political wire-puller, and the chances are his hands have been dirtied.”
Following the 1882 Congressional elections, in which Republicans were defeated by Democrats in the lower house, the Independent summarized, “It teaches us in unmistakable language that the people have determined to put a stop to corruption, extravagance, the tyranny of corporations, the inequality of taxation, the oppressions of a protective tariff, and to reduce the army of useless federal officials.” When voters rallied around the need to overturn the spoils system, the Independent showed clear support for civil service reform. Drawing broader lessons from the 1882 elections, it argued “It is folly to suppose that this revolution is directed solely against the Grant-Arthur wing of the Republican party [sic].” Not only could Republicans in general lose the support of the public, the same could happen to the Democratic Party, which upon becoming “recreant to its great trust…will be ignominiously beaten.”
Stepping away from the world of politics, the Independent also engaged in boosterism at times. Promoting the quality of life in Douglas County, the paper maintained that the area lacked the droughts of California as well as the heavy rains of nearby Willamette Valley. Additionally, the publication drew attention to the progress of railroad construction, which would eventually connect Roseburg to other county seats.
Other content varied. The “Brief Notes” section provided short comments on local affairs, even reporting on residents who fell ill. Advertisements often featured mills, dry goods stores, physicians, attorneys, and blacksmiths. One interesting article considered the curious nature of bumble bees, including details about their temperament and when they were prone to attack. Although the paper conceded that bees were not aggressive, it did express astonishment at their power, remarking, “An insect weighing no more than a tenth of an ounce is capable of ‘raising’ a man weighing 220 pounds from a bench in the public park.”
Prepared with reference to:
Turnbull, George S. History of Oregon Newspapers. Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1939.
— Written by Daniel Rinn