Statesman Office, Pre-1890

The Washington Statesman office, circa 1875. 

If you lived in Walla Walla, Washington Territory, in 1862 and you wanted to know what was going on in your town, your country and the world, your only source was probably the local newspaper, the Washington Statesman. Unlike many of the papers of its day, the Statesman was ahead of its time, presenting the news in the politically independent way that is common today, though it did sympathize with the Union during the Civil War.

The paper was founded by brothers William Smith and R.B Smith in 1861. These two later changed the publication’s name to the Walla Walla Statesman in 1864. The Statesman was a weekly newspaper that came out on Fridays. Unlike the newspapers of today, it carried very few pictures. The paper packed as much news and advertising text into each page as was possible. Many of the Statesman’s subscribers were miners, and lore has it they actually paid their subscriptions with gold dust. A subscription for a year back in 1862 cost $5.60. The number of subscribers was approximately 200.

The content of the Statesman in 1862 was focused on world affairs, history, religion, local news and letters to the editor. Headlines were understated in size and language and covered such diverse topics as, “The Indians’ Feelings Toward the Whites,” “The Best Wealth” and “Farmers Should Prepare for Winter and Worship.” 

Like today’s Union-Bulletin, it was full of advertisements, the abundance of which shows there was a very rich and diverse economy in Walla Walla even back in 1862. There were ads for everything from groceries to clothes to attorneys.  Prominent topics in the advertising that paint a picture of what might be expected from a Western town back then were liquor, wine, beer and saloons. 

It’s unclear exactly when the Statesman ceased publication, though it is known it was sometime in the early 1900s. The modern-day Union-Bulletin was crafted from a merger of John G. Kelly’s Bulletin (founded in 1906) and W.H. Cowles’ Union (purchased in 1931 in a foreclosure proceeding) by Kelly in 1934. Donald Sherwood married John G. Kelly’s daughter Virginia, and after he ran the paper for decades, they sold the Union-Bulletin to its current owner, The Seattle Times Company, stewarded by my family, the Blethens, in 1971.

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