Monday, October 25, 2010

Early San Francisco Newspapers on Microfilm


Part One

An immediate consequence of the discovery of gold on the American River near the village of Coloma in January of 1848, was the insatiable regional and national demand for all manner of topical news emanating from the faraway west and San Francisco - the gateway to the mines. Most of the early San Francisco newspapers were earnest, often threadbare and not a little bit parochial; most actively sought to play ball with the vested interests of the day. Yet there was one paper that was as much a journal as the means to a singular mission, founded with indomitable courage and all the axioms of the righteous.

C. O. Gerberding & Company launched the SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN on October 8, 1855. James King of William, disillusioned banker, ex-prospector and former member of the original Committee of Vigilance, acted as the source of editorial vengeance. He zealously assailed crooked financiers, political opportunists, rioters, gamblers, moneyed influence peddlers, strike goons, houses of prostitution, graft, bribery, corruption and election fraud. The BULLETIN's fervent campaign on behalf of civic reform caused an immediate public sensation, and the daily edition progressively expanded to some 6-7,000 copies in the first six months. King was nothing if not forthright, placing his work ethic and publishing philosophy front and center:

". . . . an editor who cannot stop in the middle of one of the finest trains of thought that he is putting on paper, to minute the dimensions of a huge pumpkin, write an advertisement of a dog lost, enter the name of a new subscriber, or receive pay for an old one, to take a cow hiding for something he has said, and after all resume the thread of his discourse, and carry out the idea in its original force and beauty, is next to no editor at all . . . ."

James King had himself been a witness and victim to corrupt business practices and unscrupulous dealings in the banking industry prior to becoming a journalist, and he utilized the powerof the press and the platform of the BULLETIN for the excoriation of the Palmer, Cook and Company banking house, I. C. Woods (caretaker of the bankrupt Adams & Company), United States Senator David C. Broderick, and other city newspapers thought to be compliant in the city and statewide corruption.

San Franciscans responded wholeheartedly, sensing hope and redress in the defiant language and pugnacious stance of the new DAILY EVENING BULLETIN:

"in California still it may be said, that rogues and villains make their daily bread . . . but who would dare these villains to expose in public print and make so many foes? . . . .Yes, now we have a friend who dare speak out, the BULLETIN explains their whereabouts . . . ."

From an office on the southeast corner of Merchant and Montgomery, the BULLETIN battled "shoulder-strikers, ballot-box stuffers, and political vagabonds generally in the city", and advocated the formation of chartered banks and oversight regulation by the state legislature - tall demands from a modest, four-page crusading tabloid locked in fierce sales competition with the ALTA CALIFORNIA, the HERALD, the PICTORIAL TOWN TALK, the GLOBE, and the CALIFORNIA CHRONICLE.

The vigorous James King had become, in a very short time, a renowned and fearless champion and folk hero for the law-abiding and the previously fearful; this was a man who labored to expose and throw out politicians who were no better than pirates of the mainland:

"A man, unworthy to serve the humblest citizen in the land, has filled the highest office in the gift of the people. Judges have sat on the bench, whose more appropriate station would have been the prison house. Men, without one particle of claim . . . have filled the posts of Mayor and Councilmen in this city, for the sole purpose of filling their pockets with the ill-gotten gains of their nefarious schemes, their pilfering and dishonesty . . . ."

American-style civic reform, it has been observed, usually stems from a bad societal conscience - in search of a good night's sleep. What the firebrand James King began in the pages of the DAILY EVENING BULLETIN would play out in a firestorm of public outcry and vigilante justice that transformed San Francisco on the eve of the American civil war - and the catalytic event was the murder and martyrdom of James King himself, on May 14, 1856.

To be continued . . .

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