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When the newspaper came to town

It takes a bit of civilization before a newspaper comes to town.

Newspapers need readers with a touch of curiosity, a little free time and a willingness to pay for the pleasure. It also helps to have a few merchants willing to advertise.

The miners of early Jackson County were looking for gold, not information. Until the tents and shacks of Jacksonville gave way to the civilizing touch of wives and children, news was one-on-one and word of mouth.

The county’s first newspaper, the Table Rock Sentinel, was literally hauled into town in 1855. William T’Vault brought the failed Umpqua Gazette’s press and printing supplies to Jacksonville from Scottsburg, a small town along the Umpqua River in Douglas County.

Medford was still nearly 30 years in the future, and so, not until the railroad finally came through in 1884 did the town begin to boom.

A year later, Michael McGinnis, “a carpetbagger fresh from Wisconsin,” began publishing the Medford Monitor, four pages appearing weekly on Fridays.

McGinnis ran into financial troubles in 1886 and sold out to local real estate agent and banker Ashba Johnson, who was a trusted member of the new community. He immediately invested in a steam engine to run the presses and, almost as quickly, ran out of money. He rushed out of town, accompanied by church funds and other monies he had “faithfully protected” in his bank’s safe.

In the summer of 1887, C.B. Carlisle of Portland bought what remained of the Monitor and began the Southern Oregon Transcript. Within a year, he too went out of business but was quickly replaced by the Medford Advertiser, marking the birth of Medford’s longest-running newspaper.

Perhaps some of you History Snoopers are already well ahead of me.

The Advertiser, renamed the Southern Oregon Mail, would be “a staunch Republican newspaper,” said Thomas Harlan, its new owner. He would face competition from time to time, but for well over the next decade, the Mail was the dominate newspaper voice in Medford.

In 1893, that voice belonged to Albert Bliton, a 33-year-old man who had just arrived in Medford from North Dakota.

In 1906, the Ashland Tribune brought its presses to Medford and began Medford’s first daily newspaper, the Medford Daily Tribune. George Putnam, a now-legendary publisher, came south from Portland as its publisher.

A crusader for truth, Putnam was never afraid to print what he believed, no matter how dangerous it might be. “A newspaper without enemies has no friends,” he said.

The Tribune owned the morning readers and the Mail the afternoon, but now the battle for readers was on and competition was fierce. Putnam added larger headlines and Bliton offered daily and weekly versions of his paper.

Putnam was 38-years-old and Bliton was 50 in the fall of 1909. Bliton was ready to move on. He sold the Mail to Putman, who combined the two newspapers into the Medford Mail Tribune.

Bliton retired with a pension from the California Oregon Power Company in 1937 and died in 1940, less than a week before his 81st birthday.

Putnam sold the Mail Tribune in 1919 and moved to Salem, where he published the Capital Journal. He died there at age 90 in a 1961 house fire.

So, there you go. When you turn this page or click to another story on the website, you’ve joined that curious group of readers who’ve cheered and sometimes chastised this newspaper for well over 100 years.

Good for you — and thanks!

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.