Scottsburg, Umpqua Weekly Gazette

Scottsburg Umpqua Weekly Gazette
[LCCN: sn84022684]
Scottsburg, Oregon

The Scottsburg Umpqua Weekly Gazette [LCCN: sn84022684] is notable for being the first newspaper published in the state of Oregon south of Salem. The debut issue appeared on April 28, 1854.

The Umpqua Gazette is representative of a certain type of paper: ones founded for the primary purpose of town boosting. A number of these were launched in Oregon during the territorial and early-statehood periods, when land speculation was widespread. Captain Levi Scott, founder of Scottsburg, also started the Gazetteas a means of attracting residents and investors to his new town. Scott purchased a second-hand printing plant from San Francisco and appointed Daniel Jackson Lyons as editor. This man’s main qualification for the job would seem to be that he was already on Scott’s payroll–before being handed the reins to the paper, he served as manager of the Captain’s hotel business. Lyons had been blinded in one eye during a childhood rock fight in his native Ireland, and, by the time he assumed control of the Gazette, his eyesight was so poor that he had to dictate his editorials to his wife.

The paper was a five-column folio supported by $5 annual subscriptions ($3 for six months) and a small base of local advertisers, mostly dry goods merchants and attorneys. Front pages featured a prominent Poetry column and, as often as not, articles skewing more towards opinion, trivia and practical advice than hard news, local or otherwise.

Despite the fact that it was a short-lived paper that never achieved a very large circulation, the Umpqua Gazette was to play a key role in solving a longstanding puzzle of Northwest maritime history. For more than a century, no one was certain about the final resting place of the schooner Damariscove (sometimes spelled ‘Demariscove’ or ‘Demaris Cove’). The ship had operated out of San Francisco since 1850, plying the coast as far north as British Columbia and participating in gold rushes, Indian wars and other colorful events of regional history. It was known that the ship wrecked along the Oregon coast in 1854, but the precise location of this sinking was lost for many years. Then, in 2005, scholars researching a book on the Damariscove discovered a forgotten report in the December 23, 1854 issue of the Umpqua Gazette:

‘The schooner Demariscove in attempting to come over the bar at the mouth of the Umpqua, on the 18th inst, ran ashore about sundown on the north spit… No lives were lost and considerable freight was saved. The vessel was a complete wreck.’

After about a year on the job, Daniel Lyons gave up his editorship of the Umpqua Gazette. The paper carried on with new leadership for a few more months, but, in the autumn of 1855, the press was sold to the firm of Taylor, Blakely & T’Vault, who relocated it to Jacksonville and used it to begin printing a new paper, the Table Rock Sentinel [LCCN: sn84022658]. This newspaper–later re-titled the Oregon Sentinel [LCCN: sn84022657]–was to become a much more ambitious and prominent institution than the humble Umpqua Gazette.

In his History of Oregon Newspapers (1932: Binfords & Mort, Portland, OR), George S. Turnbull relates a final, interesting anecdote: in 1855, when the Sentinelacquired the Gazette’s printing plant, one of the type cases was found to be riddled with bullet marks, indicating that it had been “used, very likely, as an improvised breastwork against the Indians in the fighting of that period.”

— Written by Jason Stone

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