Oregon Sentinel

Oregon Sentinel
[LCCN: sn84022657]
Jacksonville, Oregon


The Jacksonville Oregon Sentinel [LCCN: sn84022657] was founded by a prominent figure in early Oregon publishing and politics, William G. T'Vault. T'Vault had already served as a member of the provisional legislature in 1846, as well as attaining the posts of prosecuting attorney and postmaster general in the territorial government. He had also been the inaugural editor of Oregon's very first paper, the Oregon Spectator [LCCN: sn84022642]. However, the investors behind the Spectator shortly relieved him of this duty, citing faulty orthography and syntax as the grounds for his dismissal. T'Vault always claimed it was his outspoken politics that had earned him the pink slip.

By 1855, T'Vault was ready to try his hand at journalism again, this time with a paper of his own. Along with two partners, he purchased the printing plant of the Scottsburg Umpqua Gazette [LCCN: sn98068707] and relocated it to Jacksonville, at that time the boom town of southern Oregon. His new paper was initially called the Table Rock Sentinel [LCCN: sn84022658], though the title was changed to Oregon Sentinel in January of 1858. The paper was intensely Democratic and pro-South in its early years. James O'Meara, who succeeded T'Vault as editor in October of 1859, only furthered these policies. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the paper was boycotted by Union loyalists, and public pressure forced O'Meara to abandon his editorial post in May of 1861. In the final issue he completed, almost three full columns on page one are devoted to an unexpurgated quotation of a secessionist speech that recently had been delivered by John C. Breckenridge in the Kentucky state house.

Thereafter, the paper was acquired by Henry Denlinger and W.M. Hand, who installed a strongly Republican philosophy and a young editor, Orange Jacobs, who was more than willing to share his pro-Union sentiments emphatically in print. Even though the coverage was now biased in the opposite direction, war news continued to dominate the Sentinel throughout the conflict between the states, with only a column or two on Page 3 regularly devoted to local affairs. In addition to the comings and goings of prominent citizens, much local coverage was given to the gold mining industry, which was the basis of the local economy. Another distinctive feature of the Sentinel at this time was the dedication of not less than five columns on the front page to advertisements.

The earliest known written description of Oregon’s Crater Lake was published in 1862 in the pages of the Oregon Sentinel. Chauncy Nye, the prospector who authored the piece, named the body of water Blue Lake in tribute to its amazing clarity. Others would call it Lake Majesty. In 1869, the Sentinel’s editor, Jim Sutton, lead a party that explored this natural wonder by boat. In his published report, Sutton seems to have coined the name that stuck: Crater Lake.

During the gold rush years of the 1860s and ‘70s, when nearly 1500 mining claims were registered in the Jacksonville district, the town was among the most prosperous in the state. It was also more cosmopolitan than most, with sizable populations of German merchants, Mexican packers, Jewish entrepreneurs from Eastern Europe, and Chinese laborers. The presence of these groups is often evident in the newspapers of the day, though immigrants were not always welcomed with open arms, and the reception given the Chinese was particularly hostile.

The fortunes of Jacksonville began to wane when the town was bypassed by the Oregon and Pacific Railroad in 1883. The commercial center of southern Oregon rapidly shifted to the new town of Medford, which the railroad platted as a depot site about five miles to the east. Thereafter, a succession of owners and publishers kept the Sentinel afloat for a few more years, but readership was steadily shrinking along with the population of Jacksonville. The paper was finally suspended on March 16, 1888.

-- Written by Jason Stone