Cottage Grove Sentinel turns 113

Lew A Cates, founder of the Cottage Grove Sentinel.

How the ‘live wire’ newspaper began and the history of its fiery creator

The dawn of Cottage Grove’s first newspapers

September 15, 2022 - Since July 15, 1889, Cottage Grove has been supplied by a nearly unbroken stream of news from publishers, editors, reporters, advertisers, and contributors to South Lane County. Although Cottage Grove attracted miners, it also appealed to journalists from the Midwest looking to disseminate their trade in bulletins and influence their new community to become active members.

The Cottage Grove Sentinel has been in the thick of it all since 1909 and is the oldest business still operating on Main Street, with the same name since the publication first began.

Drain, Ore., then a booming town in North Douglas County, had an old military-style press. The first area newspaper was called the Drain Echo, published by E.P. Thorpe. Soon, the Cottage Grove Echo-Leader was published in the summer of 1889. By October, the Leader began to print in Cottage Grove, with its new editor F.W. Chausse, a Portland printer.

Thorpe stayed as editor in Drain when the paper moved, but in 1895, he bought the holdings of the Cottage Grove paper from Chausse and merged the two together, as the Echo-Leader. Early newspapers that source the Echo-Leader went as far as the Valley Record in Ashland, Ore., on June 23, 1892.

The oldest digitized edition of the Cottage Grove Echo-Leader is in the University of Oregon digital archive and begins at Volume 6 and dates to Dec. 8, 1894. In a curious footnote, published on November 30, 1895, the front-page logo and masthead read, “Cottage Grove and Lemati Leader” for only one, singular print edition. After a two-and-a-half-month hiatus from the Echo-Leader, its circulation stopped unexpectedly on Aug. 10, 1895.

It was the only hiccup in the weekly paper’s history and the reaction to the long and convoluted newspaper name didn't go unnoticed. It was officially changed to simply, The Leader, stylized with a period (The Leader.), in December 1895. Artifacts from the early newspaper’s history, extracted from an early Sentinel office, included paperwork in an old case belonging to E.P. Thorpe, an old tombstone, old iron press quoins, and other items that were found inside the walls of the building.

In February 1897, E.P. Thorpe passed away on his way to work, and it then changed hands, and politics, twice. Under the new owner’s administration for The Leader, C.W. Wallace and L.F. Woley branched out and purchased newspapers in Riddle and Salem as well. Horace Mann also created another weekly paper in 1897 to fill the gap in a competitive trade by publishing Friday and calling his paper the Cottage Grove Messenger, where he ran it for two years until he sold his stake in news to C.J. Howard in 1899.

Howard was a Dorena resident and postmaster. Under his ownership, the Cottage Grove Messenger vanished, and a new paper was carved into the town’s fabric, which he named the “Bohemia Nugget.”

The newspaper was originally nonpartisan, positioned as an independent voice, but it drifted into Republican politics the following year. It’s reported in the “History of Oregon Newspapers for Lane County” that after this period, “editors and publishers came and went fast.” Publisher and historian Elbert Bede also noted that “the early papers in town were strong for colonels and preachers.”

With the success of the Bohemia Nugget and The Leader, printing on the same Main Street block — presently, with the Nugget where 5 Flying Monkeys is and the Leader where Greg Biller Guitar Repair is — F.J. Hard, a mining promoter, was not only manager of the Cottage Grove Leader but also the owner of the Bohemia Nugget. He ran them both simultaneously, though it wasn’t known to the public. In 1905, a corporation made of banker Herbert Eakin, merchant Oliver Veatch, Frank Rosenburg and Hard bankrolled yet another publication under the name “Lane County Leader.”

Hard then disposed of the Lane County Leader to C.J. Howard in 1905, where Howard changed its name to “Western Oregon.” In two years, the Western Oregon went through a few editorial and publishing changes as well. The Bohemia Nugget and The Leader were eventually consolidated when the editors of the Leader purchased the Nugget in 1907 and the “Bohemia Nugget” name was retired from weekly publication.

After the dust settled, only two papers were left standing, the old Cottage Grove Leader and the Western Oregon.

Lew A. Cates, the Sentinel's Live Wire

Lewis A Cates came from a long-established rural family in Earlville, Iowa. He was born in 1860 and noted for being in the printing trade since he was 16 years old. He married Sarah E. Sears, from Manitowoc, Wis., in 1880, when Cates was 20 years old and she was 26. They worked together at the Waupaca Press in Waupaca, Wis. with her little brother William Stoddard as an apprentice. Two years later, Cates was announced as editor and publisher of the Menasha Press, in a larger Wisconsin city, with a larger circulation.

Lewis and Sarah started their family the following year in June 1883, with the birth of their daughter, Edith, in Appleton, Wis. Just a few months later, Lew retired from the Menasha Press and took a position as city editor on the Appleton Daily Post. Cates' son Harold was born in 1885. The family jumped to another newspaper the following year, the Kaukauna Daily Times.

In October 1887, Cates connected with yet another publication, the Escanaba Delta in Michigan. But, the following year, in November 1888, it was announced that Cates was now the manager of Escanaba’s new Opera House, after printing a circular for them the previous year.

It was a busy period for Lew and Sarah Cates, who drifted from one job to another; she was the acting bookkeeper of all the printing offices. Sarah gave birth to one additional daughter, Grace, in 1889 before passing away Jan. 15, 1891. Cates was left a widow with children. The following month, The Menasha Press reported that he was sojourning in New Orleans, likely from grief. One year later, on Jan. 14, 1892, Cates married Olivia Franklin, a widow with a child.
Nine months later, they welcomed their daughter, Ruth, born in Escanaba, Mich.
With a new family, and attempting a simpler, more stable life, Lew dipped away from the newspaper business temporarily when he discovered a claim with quicksilver mercury. He went on the road and traveled some with the family. His announcements featured in several “Hotel Arrival” logs are listed with various newspapers in St. Paul and St. Louis.

It wasn't long before Cates took on the weekly “Iron Port & Calumet” newspaper in Escanaba, Mich., where he thrived in his trade. However, he suffered an accident on May 5, 1900, when he was kicked by a horse during a family reunion in Iowa and was left nursing a broken jaw.

After some time at the Iron Port & Calumet, tension flared on Jan. 6, 1903, when a competitor took a jab at the publication, saying the Iron Port was “growing old” at 32 years in the area. Still, it complemented Cates as editor. Just a few weeks later, on Jan. 27, Olivia Cates filed for divorce from Lew, citing “cruelty.” Divorce was granted without being contested three months later.

Cates' daughter Inga married in April 1905 and daughter Edna married Albin Norblad in 1906. Norblad and his bride moved to Astoria, Ore., in 1909 where he practiced law, became involved in city government, and later, became Oregon’s 19th governor.

By 1909, Lewis Cates set his sights on moving closer to his daughter in Oregon and listed a printing business for sale in St. Louis, with everything included, for $7,000, approximately $235k today. He reconciled with Olivia, and they traveled West together after the business sold. Traveling to the Oregon coast, they considered buying the Tillamook Headlight newspaper but decided to take the plunge with the Western Oregon in Cottage Grove. On Sept. 26, 1909, the first paper with Cates at the helm as publisher and editor was printed on Main Street. But it didn’t carry the name “Western Oregon'' any longer; Cates had rebranded it as “Cottage Grove Sentinel.”

The Sentinel ran welcome notices from dozens of well-wishers through December 1909, all coming from Oregon publishers, noting Lew A. Cates as one of the finest in their field. As competition for earnings, scoops on news items, and social status grew, it was a jarring surprise to many established Oregonians when it was reported, on March 20, 1910, that Cates and other Lane County leaders were working on the creation of a new “Nesmith County,” a proposition that would initiate the creation of a county by joining North Douglas County and South Lane County, an initiative that signaled a change that Cottage Grove wasn’t prepared for.

Less than six months after his arrival to Oregon, Cates went from publisher to political mouthpiece by offering $25 cash prizes to readers of local newspapers. He placed ads asking for contributions in the form of letters, answering the question of why smaller counties would prefer Nesmith. It was propaganda that was thwarted by negative reactions from Salem publishers who considered the Pro-Nesmith committee to have “run a foul.” On Nov. 4, Lew Cates made a last-minute appeal to newspaper readers for the creation of Nesmith, in a paid advertisement, in the Albany Democrat. However, four days later, the initiative failed badly at the polls, 72% to 27% on Election Day; it was a plan shot down coldly by voters.

Next, Cates was immediately accused of “cowardly dodging behind citizens” in the scandalous flop by the Cottage Grove Leader and other publications. Yet Cates was unscathed by having 55 “prominent citizens” attend the creation of the new “The Antlers Club” banquet in Cottage Grove, with Cates as president. It’s also reported in the same paper, that Cates had discovered a big body of cinnabar and christened it “Yuletide Mine.”

His attempt at big politics was a disgrace but, Cates tried to make an effort to smooth out differences by hosting guests at a resort, with car rides, for invite-only newspapermen in June 1911.
It was clear that the Nesmith incident reverberated within the scope of Cate’s colleagues, so there was only one thing left to do. On Sept. 26, 1911, exactly two years after Cates’ arrival, the Cottage Grove Leader announced that The Sentinel had been sold to Elbert Bede, the newspaper's longest-lasting editor, publisher, and historian for 25 years.

Involvement with Nesmith was a factor for Cates departure at the Sentinel, proving to be his downfall in Cottage Grove. Lew decided to take things easy again and work as a fruit farmer but was quickly absorbed into another scandal and named plaintiff in a lawsuit over fraudulent petition signatures for the creation of Nesmith County.

With a lawsuit pending in balance of their time on the farm, Mr. and Mrs. Cates headed on a tour of Portland and Coquille at the end of January 1913. It was then announced on Feb. 4 that Cates had decided to buy the Coquille Sentinel and immediately lent the paper his old-time vigor. He eventually sold his fruit farm, was dismissed in the Nesmith County case, serving only as a witness, and bought and sold many other newspapers across Oregon through his career.

By Dec. 17, 1920, his Christmas wish was a yearning to own the Cottage Grove paper once again. However, with the steady Elbert Bede in control, it was best to keep it in his possession for the good of the town.

Later in his career, Cates was a car salesman and movie theater owner in St. Helens, Ore., where he had one built in 1927. He passed away on June 13, 1929. He was buried in Salem, Ore., where he also worked for many years. His obituaries were prominent and reflective of his publishing accomplishments.

With his wives as business partners, they kept a close watch over the town’s news and many communities' daily activities. The Sentinel was delivered weekly and with “plenty of backbone,” an early motto. Running a newspaper is a difficult job that requires a real live wire, a person with a strong energetic spirit and passion for publishing, and Lew A Cates, our paper's founder, certainly was one.

Alive and well at 1498 E. Main Street, Suite 104, in Cottage Grove, the Sentinel celebrates Lew A. Cates and his weekly brainchild, which turns 113 years old on Sept. 24, 2022.