Thursday, May 6, 2021

Sources: Local Newspapers

One of the most invaluable resources in researching the history of the past two centuries has been newspapers. The origin of the newspaper can be found in Ancient Rome in newsletters that were exchanged within societies and between merchants. Their primary purpose was to explain things that were new—news in its plural form—and they became a popular means of exchanging information about changes in the market, the availability of new resources, and new outlets for sales.

Masthead of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian following its merger with the Watsonville Morning Sun, 1943.

With the arrival of the printing press in the mid-sixteenth century, it was only a matter of time before these newsletters became more widespread. In 1609, Johann Carolus published the first modern newspaper entitled Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen (Account of all distinguished and commemorable stories). Within a century, most major cities in Europe had at least one newspaper, and over the following century, it was difficult to find a town without some local rag. Most focused on a combination of local news and society, with politics and statistics filling up what advertisements did not.

Spanish colonial Santa Cruz did not have a newspaper, or rather no evidence of one has ever been discovered. The Spanish Empire did not look favorably upon freedom of expression or speech and printing presses outside of government offices were rare. Similarly, California under Mexican leadership had some wealth but was still so far-flung that printing presses were just not a high priority for its residents. When Americans began arriving en masse with the Gold Rush in 1848-1849, printing presses came along for the ride and newspapers sprang up in San Francisco and the Gold Country immediately. But they were somewhat slower to spread outside this area. The major Santa Cruz County newspapers of the past 170 years followed the trend of most small city papers: they had an often obvious political perspective, focused on the wealthier half of the population, and were under the close direction of their owners.

Ways of Using This Source:

Newspapers are the wildcard of local history research. They can include everything you are looking for or they can completely miss something that today seems vital. When they are most helpful, they provide long and detailed explanations and descriptions of events, places, or people. The one thing you must always keep in mind when using a newspaper as a source is that everything is being told from a single perspective, and there may be multiple layers of bias showing through including political, racial, gender, and religious. In the nineteenth century, most newspapers were pretty obvious regarding their political leanings but they weren't always as clearcut otherwise.

Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel masthead, 1906.
The safest way of utilizing a newspaper is to use it to hunt for leads. If you suspect something but can't prove it, start with a newspaper and go from there. Remember, though, newspapers are not objective sources so you often still need to corroborate information once you find something in a newspaper. Still, newspapers are great for birth announcements, death notices and obituaries, and marriage announcements (collectively called BDMs in genealogical circles). They also are great places to find when new companies are incorporated, when businesses have gone bankrupt, or when land has been transferred. All of these should have supporting government documentation in the county records office as well, but newspapers are great at narrowing down dates.

More generally, newspapers can be used for investigating everyday life in a specific period. The society columns always include specific details of the comings and goings of a town's elite as well as strange happenings. Even the advertisements can be useful in identifying what is being sold, how it's being sold, and who's selling it. Other useful things can include local political information, such as the results of local elections and the issues that politicians are campaigning for or against. And then there are the opinion articles and editorials, which reveal the major issues of the day, often in precise—albeit opinionated—language.

Downsides and Problems With This Source:

As mentioned above, there are some major problems with relying heavily on newspapers for empirical information. They are by their very nature biased documents, with the reporters and editors writing from their own perspectives. They also generally focus on the happenings of the elite, so the everyday person is rarely portrayed and only appears when something unusual occurs. Also, for much of the period before 1950, newspapers relied on freelancers for stories, so what gets sold to the newspaper for inclusion was from a small selection of writers who represented a population of mostly white men who were of well enough means to survive on a periodic income. Thus, articles can be quite random and inconsistent between issues and partial stories that began in one issue may never

The Mountain Echo office on Central Avenue, Boulder Creek, ca 1900. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Historians in general often warn researchers away from newspapers entirely, but that's not fair or even a good idea. Newspapers can be very useful, but they must be understood to be used properly. While some things like BDMs, incorporation notices, etc., may be generally trustworthy, that does not mean they are accurate. Dates are often wrong or must be taken in perspective—just because something was published in a daily newspaper does not mean the event occurred in the previous 24 hours! Reports of events may tell a story, even a true story, but it may not tell the whole story. When two newspapers are available, always try to find the equivalent story in the other newspaper and compare notes. One may focus on society and the other on the facts; one may look into the politics and the other the personalities. More sources are always better, especially where newspapers are concerned.

Background and Local History Resources:

In the section below, all of the major newspapers of Santa Cruz County history prior to 1950 are examined in brief. In addition, links and references are provided for where these newspapers can be found by researchers.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel masthead, 1867.

Santa Cruz Sentinel (1855 – Present)
The Santa Cruz Sentinel is the oldest and longest-running newspaper in Santa Cruz County, but it didn't start in the county. The weekly Monterey Sentinel began life on June 2, 1855 under the ownership of John McElroy and Delos R. Ashley. It ran for one year—until June 7, 1856—from Monterey, when McElroy moved to Santa Cruz. Once in Santa Cruz, the newspaper was rechristened the Pacific Sentinel in its first issue, released on June 14. Fred K. Krauth was its initial publisher in Santa Cruz but A. M. Parry & Company, came to run the newspaper on behalf of McElroy and Ashley shortly afterwards. McElroy partnered with a man named Graves in 1859, followed by Samuel Wallace Blakely from 1860 to 1862. In 1863, McElroy sold his stake in the company to Wallace W. Broughton and John F. Liston, the former of whom sold his share to Jeremiah D. Hyde, Charles Osgood Cummings, and Oscar T. Hecox in 1864. This second iteration of the newspaper lasted until June 6, 1862 when the owners chose to retitle the newspaper the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and this is the name that stuck.

There was not a major competitor to the Sentinel for its first three decades, which made the Republican-leaning paper the dominant source of news for mid-county Santa Cruz. In late 1864, Hyde bought out the shares of Hecox and Cummings and sold theirs and his own stake to Duncan McPherson. McPherson became the business manager and an editor for the paper despite having no prior experience in newspapers. Hyde, meanwhile, acted as Ashley's representative in the company and wrote most of the columns. Not long afterwards, Hyde left and control of Ashley's shares went to J. D. Allison and, in 1865, to Benjamin Parke Kooser. For five years, little changed, but in April 1870, McPherson left to take over the San Mateo Gazette in Redwood City and he sold his shares to Frank Parker Littlefield.

The Sentinel grew rapidly in side and prominence throughout the 1870s. The first casualty of this growth was the Santa Cruz County Times, which was taken over by the Sentinel in mid-1871. Its last owner, Charles R. Hoff, was brought on as a third partner in the Sentinel alongside Kooser and Littlefield, but he sold his share to McPherson in December 1871. Littlefield and McPherson sold their shares in 1873 to James Henry Hoadley, who then sold a third of the company to Henry G. Shaw. Shaw, in turn, sold his share to Kooser in 1874. Kooser then sold his shares to McPherson and Charles Westbrook Smith Waldron in 1876. Hoadley sold his shares to McPherson on May 27, 1879, giving McPherson control of the company.

Santa Cruz Daily Sentinel masthead, 1884.
As the population of the county increased, largely due to the influx of lumber workers in the 1870s and 1880s, McPherson began publishing the Santa Cruz Daily Sentinel starting April 14, 1884. The daily paper eventually led to the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, as it had been rebranded, being abandoned after February 15, 1908. Meanwhile, McPherson introduced a daily Evening Sentinel on June 2, 1896 to cater to a different audience than his morning paper. This led to him renaming the other daily the Morning Sentinel from August 11, 1899 to December 31, 1931. The Evening Sentinel was eventually spun off as its own independent newspaper, the Santa Cruz Evening News, on November 1, 1907.

An elderly but friendly Duncan McPherson walking beside two oxen during a parade down Pacific Avenue shortly after the end of World War II, ca 1919. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]
Duncan McPherson died in February 1921 but his family continued to own the company for six more decades. The family adopted an "independent Republicanism" mindset in how they viewed their content and focused first and foremost on local matters. Duncan McPherson, for example, was a champion in protecting Big Basin in the late 1890s from being harvested for timber. The family continued to dominate the local newspaper industry and managed in late 1941 to reacquire the Evening News 34 years after it had spun off. In recognition of the merger, the newspaper was rebranded the Santa Cruz Sentinel-News from January 1, 1942 until June 15, 1956, with morning and evening editions running concurrently. From June 1956, the newspaper reverted to simply Santa Cruz Sentinel and has continued to run under that name ever since.

Santa Cruz Sentinel-News Evening Edition masthead, 1942.
The McPherson family finally sold their long ownership of the Sentinel to Ottaway Community Newspapers in 1982. Ottaway retained local offices and the quality of the newspaper was not seriously impacted initially but did decline over the years that Ottaway owned it. In 2006, Ottaway sold to Newspaper Holdings, which in turn sold it to MediaNews Group, a subsidiary of hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which also owns the San José Mercury News, the San Mateo Times, the Monterey County Herald, and many other newspapers across the Bay Area and California. MediaNews became Digital First MEdia in 2013 but remains under Alden Global Capital's control.

Some issues of this newspaper can be found for free on the California Digital Newspaper Collection website:
Santa Cruz Sentinel (1884 – 2010)
Evening Sentinel (1896 – 1907)

The following is available via a subscription to Newspapers.com:
Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel (1862 – 1908)
Santa Cruz Sentinel (1884 – 2005)
Evening Sentinel (1896 – 1907)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Cruz

The Pajaro Times masthead, 1864.
Pajaro Times and Santa Cruz County Times (1863 – 1871)
The Pajaro Valley was not long behind Santa Cruz in developing its own local newspapers shortly after Watsonville was established as a settlement. In 1863, the first significant paper, the Pajaro Times, under the ownership of Matthew Kearney, James Bernard McQuillan, and William Andrews Duchow, entered the scene. With their first issue on April 25, 1863, the paper took off with a new issue every week. In its third year, on April 22, 1865, the name was expanded to Pajaro Valley Times to better incorporate the wider region.

Santa Cruz County Times masthead, 1867.
Over the next several years, the paper underwent major management change and a shift in focus from south county to the county as a whole. On November 3, 1866, the name was changed to the Santa Cruz & Pajaro Times. Four months later, on February 23, 1867, it was changed again to Santa Cruz County Times under the management of Duchow and Edwin Augustus Stevens. The next year, on October 29, 1870, Oscar Hecox and McQuillan changed the name to simply Santa Cruz Times. But W. E. Cook took over shortly afterwards and adopted the clunky name Santa Cruz Semi-Weekly Times on February 28, 1871. This lasted only a few months when G. W. Green took over and chose the much simpler Santa Cruz Weekly Times. The paper lasted only a few more months under this name when Charles Hoff took over and promptly sold the newspaper to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The last issue ran on July 19, 1871.

Some issues of this newspaper can be found for free on the City of Watsonville website:

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Humboldt State University
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Riverside

The Pajaronian masthead, 1908.
The Pajaronian (1868 – Present)
The only truly successful newspaper in south county is The Pajaronian, which began life as two rival weekly newspapers, The Pajaronian and the Watsonville Register. The earlier of the two was The Pajaronian, founded by Joseph A. Cottle, who released the first issue of the paper on March 5, 1868. As its title suggests, the newspaper focused on news across the entirety of the Pajaro Valley, including north Monterey County and a little of San Benito and Santa Clara Counties, although the primary focus was on Watsonville and its immediate vicinity. 

Charles O. Cummings and someone named Palmer took over the paper in 1874 and ran it for seven years before selling it to William Richard Radcliffe in 1881. Radcliffe eventually partnered with James G. Piratsky and, on April 7, 1903, began printing the newspaper daily in the afternoons under the banner Evening Pajaronian. The weekly issues were abandoned at some point in the 1910s and the daily became the local evening newspaper. Radcliffe's son, George Grant, took over from his father in the early 1900s.

The Watsonville Register, meanwhile, was established in 1876 as the Watsonville Transcript, although the specifics of its early years are difficult to determine since many of its early issues are now lost. The original owners were S. A. Jones & Bro. and they appear to have run the paper from 1876 to early 1880. On February 10, 1880, the paper appeared under the name The Semi-weekly Transcript with William H. Wheeler now listed as the owner. This increased number of issues per week did not seem to work since George Washington Peckham was listed as the owner by October 1881 with the title reverted back to Watsonville Transcript when weekly issues resumed. The name was changed to Watsonville Register in 1894. Peckham's son, Charles Eugene, turned the paper into a daily beginning on December 5, 1897, beating The Pajaronian to the chase by six years. Charles Henry Prisk bought the Register in 1904 and then passed it to his son, William Frederick, a few years later. He then sold it to Ernest Herman Haack in 1910.

Watsonville Register was purchased by future mayor Frederick W. Atkinson in 1919, who subsequently purchased The Pajaronian in 1930. When he died in April 1937, the John P. Scripps Newspaper Group purchased the two newspapers and consolidated them together into the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian beginning on September 1, 1937. Fred H. Jenkins, R. C. Jenkins, and their business partners were responsible for the merger and Watsonville has only ever had one major newspaper since this time.

Watsonville Morning Sun masthead, 1939.
A short-lived rival, the Watsonville Morning Sun, run by John N. Hall, was printed from November 17, 1937, but merged with The Register-Pajaronian on March 1, 1949. From 1949, the newspaper ran as the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian & Sun until the latter title was eventually dropped on August 30, 1969. Three years later, "Watsonville" was removed from the name as well. The newspaper was sold to NewsMedia Corp in 1995 and later to Good Times in 2019, the latter of which renamed the newspaper one final time to The Pajaronian in what they considered a return to the roots of the newspaper.

A large database of newspaper issues can be found for free on the City of Watsonville website:
The Pajaronian (1868 – 1913)
Evening Pajaronian (1903 – 1937)
Watsonville Morning Sun (1937 – 1942)
Register Pajaronian (1938 – Present)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Riverside
Watsonville Public Library

Santa Cruz Surf masthead, 1889.
Santa Cruz Surf (1875 – 1919)
The first rival to the Sentinel was the Santa Cruz Local Item, a boring name for a low-circulation weekly newspaper. The first issue, put out by Hezekiah Coffin, released on April 16, 1875 and the newspaper ran for about five years. As could be expected, it took the opposite perspective of the Sentinel and was pro-Democrat in its opinions. The next year, on May 26, 1876, another paper appeared on the scene, the Santa Cruz Weekly Courier, run by Holmes Cunningham Patrick and Green Majors.

Arthur Taylor sitting at his desk with a Surf on the bureau, ca 1892. [Colorized using DeOldify]
After each newspaper struggled for half a decade, the two were merged by Arthur Adelbert Taylor on March 3, 1880 to become the Santa Cruz Weekly Courier and Local Item. Taylor clearly realized that the name was mouthful and after a year simplified it to the Courtier-Item on October 6, 1881. Still unsatisfied, Taylor rebranded the newspaper again on June 4, 1883 to the Santa Cruz Surf, and this is the name that stuck the longest.

The Surf initially ran as a weekly newspaper but a separate daily began on September 9, 1889. Unlike the Sentinel, the Surf focused much more on the middle and working class than the upper echelons of Santa Cruz society, although they certainly were mentioned too. The newspaper is well known among historians for its detailed descriptions of life in Santa Cruz County and its stronger focus on society in general. The last issue of the Surf in its standard format released on February 5, 1919, after which it was rebranded the Santa Cruz Surf & Superior California Farmer, which ran for three more months, ending on May 29, 1919.

The following is available via a subscription to Newspapers.com:
Santa Cruz Surf [Daily] (1883 – 1907)
Santa Cruz Surf [Weekly] (1883 – 1899)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
California State Library
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley

The Mountain Echo masthead with leaf veins, 1916.
Mountain Echo (1896 – 1916)
Far removed from the metropolitan centers of the county, Boulder Creek needed a newspaper and Charles Campbell Rodgers had the bold idea of publishing one. The San Lorenzo Valley was at the height of its logging era and Rodgers decided that it had sufficient population for a weekly newspaper. The venture paid off and for two decades, his Mountain Echo was the valley's premier newspaper. The first issue released on October 24, 1896 and it ran for ten years before its readership expanded through the merger of the Ben Lomond News in November 1906. The News only ran for a year from April 1905 under the leadership of Arthur C. Probert of C. P. Davis & Company. After merging, the newspaper was rebranded the Santa Cruz Mountain Echo. Rodgers died in 1914 and his brother briefly ran the paper until selling to Luther Eames McQuesten, a Santa Cruz Surf printer. McQuesten was unable to turn a profit with the paper and even several issues in November 1916 on actual leaves to try and embarrass debtors, but he only embarrassed himself. Only a month later, on December 23, 1916, he closed shop. The lumber era in the San Lorenzo Valley had ended and there were simply not enough interested locals left to support the struggling newspaper.

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
San Lorenzo Valley Museum (Boulder Creek)
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Evening News masthead, 1911.
Santa Cruz Evening News (1907 – 1941)
One of the contributing factors to the decline of the Surf was likely the entry of a rival afternoon newspaper, the Santa Cruz Evening News. The paper began as the Evening Sentinel but was bought out by Edward J. Devlin and Henry Ray Judah, Jr. The first issue released on November 1, 1907 and was clearly part of an agreement with the Sentinel since their Evening Sentinel was discontinued the same day. However, the Evening News soon took on a life of its own and shifted quickly to a Democratic perspective, putting it in contrast to the Republican-leaning Sentinel. The newspaper was reabsorbed by the Sentinel in late 1941 and its final issue was published on December 31 of that year. For the next fifteen years, the Sentinel recognized the merger by rebranding itself the Sentinel-News.

Some issues of this newspaper can be found for free on the California Digital Newspaper Collection website:
Santa Cruz Evening News (1907 – 1941)

The following is available via a subscription to Newspapers.com:
Santa Cruz Evening News (1907 – 1941)

Issues of this newspaper are available physically or in microfilm at:
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
University of California, Berkeley

Citations & Credits:

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