Oregon's first newspaper, the “Flumgudgeon Gazette,” was written out longhand
Most people think the first paper was the Oregon Spectator, but an irascible local political gadfly named Charles Edward “Philosopher” Pickett (writing as “The Curltail Coon”) stole a march on the bigger paper using only a pen and ink
Oregon’s first printing press started operations in February 1846, producing a paper called the Oregon Spectator out of Oregon City. But what most history buffs don’t realize is, the Spectator wasn’t the state’s first newspaper.
That honor goes to a tiny, satirical publication called The Flumgudgeon Gazette and Bumble Bee Budget, also from Oregon City, which came out the previous year — with every copy written out by hand.
LIMITED EDITION, FOR REAL
The Chicago Tribune, as you probably know, is affectionately known as “The Trib.” It would be nice to think of The Flumgudgeon Gazette being affectionately dubbed “The Gudge.” Unfortunately, we can only speculate about that.
In any event, The Flumgudgeon Gazette was a tri-weekly paper, and it only put out a dozen or so editions — just enough to get through the session of the Oregon Territorial Legislature. And as you can imagine, the press run wasn’t much to shout about either — the amount of time required to write an entire newspaper out longhand, three times a week, kept the number of copies down in the low two-digit range.
Huston writes that this little periodical, its slapstick name and tiny press run notwithstanding, was taken very seriously and kept the lawmakers on their toes. It also had a strongly satirical bent — its subtitle was “A newspaper of the Salamagundi Order, devoted to scratching and stinging the follies of the times.”
AN EARLY OREGON MAVERICK JOURNALIST
The Flumgudgeon Gazette’s editor was a man who called himself “Curltail Coon” or “Long-tail Coon,” but was really named Charles Edward Pickett. In launching his “newspaper,” Pickett was stealing a march on a group of Oregon City notables, who had founded an organization called the Oregon Lyceum in 1844 to raise money to start a newspaper in Oregon. This it did — the result was the Oregon Spectator — but it took a while to bring the press from New York City, which is why it didn’t start publishing until two years later.
As it turned out, The Flumgudgeon Gazette was the first newspaper not just in Oregon, but anywhere in America west of the Rockies — which isn’t saying as much as it sounds like, since California was part of Mexico at the time. It also set a certain feisty, sarcastic, muckraking tone for West Coast newspapers, later known as the “Oregon Style.”
FIRST PRINTING PRESS CAME THE FOLLOWING YEAR
Not possessing a printing press, Pickett couldn’t compete when the Spectator’s press arrived — although that didn’t stop disgruntled Spectator editor George Curry two years later when he quit to start his own paper. Curry actually made a press out of wood and carved some of the type he needed out of wood as well, when he launched Oregon’s third paper, the Free Press, to compete head-to-head with the Spectator. Curry later became governor.
In the meantime, Pickett had gone on to make even more history down in California, which by that time had become part of the U.S. Pickett had moved to Sacramento and was again making a name for himself as a political gadfly down there. In the mid-1870s, he started a fight during a trial before the California Supreme Court by seizing one of the justices and dragging him off his seat on the bench. The stunt resulted in a sensational contempt-of-court trial and an eight-month jail sentence for Pickett. Pickett later sued the court for $100,000 for this, but he lost.
NOTE: For more Offbeat Oregon history stories by Finn J.D. John, you can visit offbeatoregon.com/. This article was originally published by Finn on July 5, 2010.
(Sources: Huston, Frederic. Journalism in the United States, 1690-1872. New York: Harper, 1873; Powell, Lawrence Clark. “Flumgudgeon Gazette in 1845 Antedated the Spectator,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, June 1940 (41.2); Richard Heinzkill, “A Brief History of Newspapers in Oregon,” http://libweb.uoregon.edu; Jewell, Andrew. “How the Great do Tumble,” Faculty Publications-Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, 2002.)