On September 29, 1877, Charles B. Hopkins (1855-1920) and Lucien E. Kellogg (1851-1930) publish the first issue of the Palouse Gazette in the small Eastern Washington town of Colfax. According to the editors, the paper is the first "East of the Cascades and north of [the] Snake River" ("Brief Notes"). The Republican-leaning weekly soldiers on under different names -- but with Gazette always in its masthead -- into the twenty-first century. By 2017, the paper is known as the Whitman County Gazette.
Stoking the Fires
Colfax's start dates to the early 1870s, when wheat farmers began coalescing into a small village on the Palouse River in Southeastern Washington's Whitman County. By 1877, the still-unincorporated community boasted at least two dozen businesses and had an estimated population between 200 and 300. But Native Americans in the area from various tribes outnumbered the settlers, and the little community of newcomers felt far from secure. Conflict broke out between one tribe, the Nez Perce, and the U.S. Army in the summer of 1877, and residents of Colfax famously panicked on June 17 when phony rumors of an imminent Indian attack reached the town. The brouhaha eventually died down without incident, but it did help stoke the fires to establish a community newspaper so news could be more reliably reported.
Lingering paranoia from the summer scare was reflected in the first issue of the weekly Palouse Gazette, published on Saturday, September 29, 1877. Several references to the "Indian troubles," as well as a short story on page 1 describing a robbery in Dayton allegedly by some Nez Perce (and asking why they were allowed to be off the reservation), appeared in the four-page debut issue. There were more comprehensive articles too. A description of an interview by the New York Herald with Sioux Chief Sitting Bull appeared on page 3, and an update on the ongoing conflict with the Nez Perce was on page 4. That article, reprinted from San Francisco's Daily Morning Call, explained in part:
"It has been general [Otis] Howard's misfortune to be deceived in his enemy. He has been so certain of the future that he has thought he might announce it in advance. At one time General Howard announced that he had [Nez Perce Chief] Joseph hemmed in in a mountain pass and would proceed to capture him. But very shortly after Joseph was dancing away from the pass in fine spirits, and Howard was following with such fine spirits as he could command ... The chase has been a long one, and the party being pursued has the advantage of knowing the country they pass through. General Howard can hardly be blamed for not overtaking Joseph under the circumstances, but his failure would have been less conspicuous if his dispatches had been less confident" ("Howard and Joseph").
As it turned out, the war ended about a week later with Joseph's surrender.
A Historical Gold Mine
The front page of the paper's first issue contained a detailed description of some two dozen businesses in the community -- listed, the paper explained, to provide information for strangers and others wanting information about Colfax, and a gold mine for historians more than a century later. Accolades were given for all, from the town's doctors and lawyers all the way down to its laundryman, Sing Yune, described by the paper as an "artiste in his line" ("Colfax"). As was common in smaller nineteenth-century newspapers, the paper's front page had ads, including one for a dentist, two for drugstores, and -- even in 1877 Colfax -- three for lawyers. A column of "Brief Notes" provided tidbits about area news, ranging from "The verbose Blake nightly entertains a large and appreciative group of listeners in the hotel sitting-room" to a more serious announcement of two cases of diphtheria at Penawawa, about 25 miles southwest of Colfax ("Brief Notes").
Page 2 of that September 29 issue was primarily devoted to essays (another fairly common staple in early pioneer newspapers) and short stories, while page 3 had sundry personal notes from around the world and the Sitting Bull article previously mentioned. The page also had a detailed, and rather excited, article announcing the discovery of two tiny moons circling Mars, now named Phobos and Deimos.
In addition to the Call article about the pursuit of Chief Joseph, the Gazette's final page contained a brief update from nearby Palouse City (later called Palouse, some 15 miles east near the Idaho line), as well as instructions for settlers coming to the area. The paper suggested they travel light, and assured them they could buy what they needed once they reached Colfax. The article added that a cabin could be built for $50 (equivalent to about $1,150 in 2017 dollars), while a one-story frame house with two to four rooms would cost $200 to $600 (approximately $4,600 to $13,800 in 2017).
Page 4 also contained a greeting from the editors to the community. Among other laudable goals, the Gazette said it was:
"[devoted] to the general dissemination of useful information, and educating all classes; maintaining order and inculcating sobriety are among the foremost objects we have in view. The old centers of civilization have become over crowded, and to the great North-west the young and enterprising must come" ("Greeting").
The Gazette has been a steady presence in Colfax since its 1877 debut. It grew rapidly in its early years -- by 1888 it boasted (whether truthfully or not) that it was the biggest four-page paper in Washington Territory, with nine columns to a page. In 1893 the paper changed its name to the Palouse Gazette, which it remained until 1932, when it merged with its Democratic-leaning town rival, the Colfax Commoner. The paper was renamed the Gazette-Commoner, which lasted until 1958, when it became the Colfax Gazette. In 1989 the Colfax Gazette became the Whitman County Gazette, and it retained this name in 2017, still publishing weekly after all these years, both in print and online.