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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

ABOUT THE CURLTAIL COON:

Lawrence Clark Powell wrote an excellent biography of Charles Edward "Philospher" Pickett, a.k.a. The Curltail Coon, but it's a bit obscure and may not be in your local library. Luckily, the American Grand Jury Foundation's Web site contains a detailed review of the book (unsigned).

It's ironic that a man who had so much to do with the political philosophy of early Oregon died without leaving, so far as I can find, a physical trace: no photograph, no sketch, not even a gravestone.

about the oregon spectator:

(Click here to see a larger version of this picture.) Published out of Oregon City, the West Coast's first printed newspaper was never particularly influential in the way later papers such as the Oregon Statesman would be, but it was the first. It also boasted the only printing press on the West Coast for some years; the press was used for many other important jobs as well, from public notices to school textbooks.

An excellent summary of the Oregon Spectator story is here, on the University of Oregon library's Website.

The "Spectator" today:

The original Oregon Spectator didn't even last 10 years; it was closed down in 1855 — four years before Oregon became a state. Some time considerably later — how much later I haven't been able to learn, but at least 100 years — a journal of opinion and news analysis was launched under the same name. This publication claims to be the original Oregon Spectator in its 164th year of publication. But I haven't been able to find any connection between the two publications other than the name. It is available only on-line and is presented in a multi-media format.

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

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

The old letterpress used to print the Oregon Spectator in 1946. Photo by Curt M. Thomas.
The letterpress used to print Oregon's first printed
newspaper, the Oregon Spectator, is on display at
the University of Oregon's Allen Hall, home of the
School of Journalism and Communication there.
This press was actually shipped "around the horn" to
Oregon in 1846 -- almost a year after Edward Pickett
created Oregon's first newspaper, writing every copy
out longhand. (Photo by Curt M. Thomas)

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.

(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.)