September 2004


A Researcher's Reflections on Local Newspapers

by Susie Van Kirk

Part 2: The Newspapers

Introduction
Ferndale Enterprise
Arcata Union
Blue Lake Advocate
Del Norte County Newspapers
Humboldt Times

Introduction
The two most important primary source materials for researching local history are property ownership records (deeds) and community newspapers, now on microfilm and located at county libraries and the Humboldt State University library. Researchers of history use these sources extensively because they are contemporary records.

Local community newspapers reported, as accurately as newspapers tend to be, events of the day, beginning in Humboldt County in 1854 with the publication of the Humboldt Times.

From these first recordings of local history, the researcher can locate accounts of current events-births, deaths, and marriages; the extent and intensity of flood events; how many cases of salmon an Eel River cannery produced in a season; trail, wagon road, and highway construction; who was building a house or barn; how many pounds of butterfat Arcata Bottom dairymen were taking to the creamery; and so much more. Newspapers also reported on economic, civil, political, and social matters, promoting their own positions on issues ranging from what the relationship of the invading Euro-American population should be with native peoples to the development of railroad and highway connections with the outside world.

Three community newspapers in Humboldt County (Ferndale Enterprise, Blue Lake Advocate, and Arcata Union) and the Del Norte County papers (Crescent City Herald, Crescent City Courier, Del Norte Record, and Del Norte Triplicate) are the primary news sources used by this researcher over the past thirty years. The major Humboldt County newspaper, the Humboldt Times which continues in 2004 as the Times-Standard, is the important source of local information during the 1850s, '60s, and '70s, prior to the establishment of the community newspapers listed above. It is a significant source of historic and current information as the longest, continuously-published paper in Humboldt County. Other local, but short-lived newspapers that provide information for very specific time periods are the Northern Californian (1858-1860); the West Coast Signal (1871-1879), and the Western Watchman (1886-1898). The Alta California (1849-1891 from San Francisco); the Arcata Leader (1879-1881); and the Humboldt Beacon (1907-present) are also available on microfilm. The other important community newspaper, the Rohnerville Herald (c.1881 through at least 1891) is another valuable source of information, but unfortunately the HSU Library only has microfilmed issues from Oct. 19, 1887 to Dec 30, 1891.

The following are short descriptions of the newspapers that are most useful to this researcher.

Ferndale Enterprise

The Enterprise began publication in the spring of 1878. This weekly community paper covered its hometown with reports on people and events associated with Ferndale's growth and development, but it also included vital information about the farming communities on the lower Eel River, some information about Fortuna and Rio Dell, and good coverage of the down-coast communities of Petrolia, Mattole, Honeydew, and even Shelter Cove. The paper provided extensive coverage of flood events and the commercial fisheries and canneries on lower Eel River. Information about the dairy industry, including production of individual cows and articles to assist dairy farmers, filled its pages.

Arcata Union

The Union began publication in the summer of 1886. It was an unabashed promoter of Arcata and, although it carried columns from other communities, it was a local paper that kept its focus on Arcata and Arcata Bottom. Also a weekly, except for a brief time in the early 1900s when it was published twice a week, the Union provided very personal information about people, including the standard vital statistics, but also illnesses, accidents, and even sordid family affairs. It described, sometimes at length, the construction of a new house and the remodeling of downtown business houses. Tragedies and parties were reported equally as they occurred. Creamery activities, cow production, bushels of oats produced, when Liscom's thrasher was at work, who was catching salmon on Mad River, logging and mills, railroads and wagon roads-all found their way into the pages of the Union. At various times, up-the-coast correspondents from Trinidad, Big Lagoon, Orick, and Requa submitted letters from their communities, and closer to home, Bayside, Blue Lake, and McKinleyville reported on their residents.

Blue Lake Advocate

First published in May 1888 as the Northern Advocate, this newspaper is an invaluable source, providing information about places in the County and even bordering areas of Siskiyou and Trinity counties that can be found in no other Humboldt County newspaper. This local paper expanded its Blue Lake community to include Redwood Creek, Hoopa, Weitchpec, Orleans, Somes Bar, Salmon River country, and sometimes even Happy Camp. Along the Trinity River, the paper covered doings in Willow Creek, Salyer, Hawkins Bar, and Burnt Ranch. Reports of events in western Trinity County, such as mining activities and highway construction that were of interest to Humboldt County residents, were included in the Advocate.

Del Norte County Newspapers

There are four major newspapers of record that were published in Crescent City, Del Norte County. Microfilm copies of these papers, except for the Triplicate, are incomplete. For the Crescent City Herald, issues available on microfilm are limited to the last seven months of 1854; most of 1855 and 1856; all of 1857 and 1868; and the first six months of 1859. For the Crescent City Courier, issues available on microfilm include a few issues in 1872; most of 1873 and 1874; some issues in 1875; most of 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879, and 1880; and a few in 1881. The Del Norte Record issues available are for the last eight months of 1880; all of 1881 and 1882; most of 1883; the first four months of 1884; most of 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890, and 1891; one issue in 1892; and from May 5 to Dec. 8, 1900. The Del Norte Triplicate began publication in January 1912 and the file is generally complete.

These are the newspapers of record for Del Norte County history. The Herald provided the only coverage, biased as it was, of native-white relationships during those first years of Euro-American occupation. It also had information about upper Klamath River communities and mining. Both the Herald and Courier reported on early settlement activities-farming, shipping, logging-and descriptions of the Big Lagoon (Lake Earl). The Record continued that coverage along with the regular reports on people and local events. Mining activities at Big Flat and elsewhere, packing, and the Smith River fisheries received attention in the Record. The Triplicate reported extensively on the development of Crescent City, the coming of the Redwood Highway and tourism. These Crescent City papers were also the only consistent source of information on the lower Klamath River, its fisheries, Requa, and the inhabitants of this area.

Humboldt Times

The Times began publication in 1854, just four years after Euro-American settlement of the Humboldt Bay region began. The paper started as a weekly, became a daily, and for some period was published as both a weekly and a daily. It was the consistent source of information about county affairs and through its editorial statements and the tone of its coverage played a significant role in shaping attitudes in this northern California outpost, where contact with the outside world was limited to visitors from the San Francisco Bay area or locals who visited the City and returned home with the news.

The Times carried courthouse transactions, the proceedings of the Board of Supervisors, and local political news. At various times and in various amounts, the paper carried state, national and international news. Locally, it was less involved in the personal, daily lives of its residents, unlike community papers, but did at different times carry columns from outlying places, such as Garberville and Falk.


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The Northwestern California Newspaper Project is managed by the Humboldt Room located in the Humboldt State University Library