The Sumpter Miner
The motto of the Sumpter Miner [LCCN: sn96088466], adopted four years after the newspaper’s launch in 1899, sums up its short-lived raison d’être: “Eastern investors in Oregon mines pay for and read it.” The weekly newspaper covered the spectacular boom and bust of this central Oregon town in the years between 1899 and 1905.
The 12-page Miner was robust with local coverage, although it served more as a cheerleader for mining interests than an objective lens on the community. It was, essentially, a trade publication. Its first edition, issued September 13, 1899, recounts how out-of-state “men of money” and English capitalists were showing interest in local investments, and the town’s first bank was preparing to open. Months later, advertisers were boasting that Sumpter was the “Johannesburg of America.” The ads noted that the town had 30 fire hydrants, four saw mills, one steam laundry, four dry goods stores, three jewelers, 16 saloons and “a number of secret societies.” (There was also a red light district and a Chinatown.) The abundance of advertisers helped support two newspapers; the other local weekly was the Blue Mountain American [LCCN: sn96088127].
In 1900 – the peak year of gold mining at Sumpter – $8.9 million was extracted from 35 area mines. Articles in the Miner painted an optimistic portrait of the town, naming those who struck it rich and quoting outsiders who praised the city: the area was “favorably compared with California mines” and “destined to attract attention of the world.” In the Talk of the Town column, men were affiliated with the names of the mines they worked, such as Red Boy and North Pole, rather than their hometowns. Rarely did the newspaper mention mining accidents.
In the newspaper’s final years, reports began to hint at declining revenues. Some mine owners had taken to hiring mediums to tell them where to dig tunnels. Advertisements were smaller and appeared to be responding to criticism: “An investment, not a speculation,” one read. “This is not one of those so call get rich quick schemes,” insisted another. Several mines announced they were closing for the winter, or for repairs. One simply couldn’t attract a buyer. A rumor circulated that the Miner’s publisher, James W. Connella, had broadcast the existence of a new claim worth $160,000 in an attempt to lure prospectors back to the shrinking town. Without mining, it was obvious the Sumpter Miner would cease to exist.
In the familiar pattern of boom-and-bust Western towns, all of this proved futile. As the Sumpter mines tapped out and investors pulled out, Connella announced to his readers that he would be changing the newspaper’s name to Inland Empire Miner [LCCN: sn96088471] and moving its headquarters to Baker City, a larger town 30 miles away. Connella wanted a more central location with quicker mail facilities, he wrote, but above all, he hoped to “rid the Miner of the heavy handicap of being considered merely a ‘local’ paper, which drawback to recruiting general business, it has been impossible to overcome here.”
-- Written by Isolde Raftery