News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

The Old Pioneer Press

November 23, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

The Old Pioneer Press

The old press which has passed through so many scenes in California, which has played not an unimportant part in her public affair, from her thraldom to weak distracted Mexico, to her bursting from the chrysalis condition into a full grown member of the great American Republic; the old pioneer press that has received so many touching tributes of respect from the newspapers of our State, has at last been destroyed.

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It is the nature of the human mind to cling with an excusable fondness to aged relics. But this, at once pointing to the past, and, by contrast, bringing out in bolder relief the miraculous present of California, had centered around itself feelings of more than ordinary interest. It was the first and for a long time the only press in California. It passed from the hands of the old governors into those of the Americans, and was put by them upon a more extended field of usefulness than that to to which it had previously been devoted. As towns arose it found its way from one to another, and was instrumental in the publication not only of the first newspaper ever issued in the country, but of most of the oldest papers now in existence, throughout the State.

All had to look upon it as a relic, belonging to California, and the Vandalism which has deprived us of it cannot but be much regretted. Citizens in the town of Columbia, in the Southern Mines, have the unenviable notoriety of violating some of the finest feelings planted in the human breast, and burning the old Pioneer Press.

No occasion could arise more appropriate than the present, to review briefly its career of usefulness. Years ago, when Ramage presses were more looked upon than they are at present, as wonders of art and ingenuity, it strayed away from New York out to the city of Mexico, and at last reached Monterey. Here it was used by the Mexican authorities for printing laws and other public documents. Subsequently, it was purchased by Messrs. Colton and Semple, together with the imperfect font of worn out type which had been used with it. On it was printed the first newspaper ever published on the western North American slope.

Half in Spanish, half in English, with its torn, dingy yellow paper, here it lies before us, the first number of "The Californian." As we read its subsequent pages, we find that the press has bone its share in the labor of spreading among the old Californians the sentiment of liberty. The country was taken by the Americans. Peace was declared, and the little paper raised its voice for the formation of a territorial government, and the sending of a delegate to the U. S. Congress.

Meanwhile Yerba Buena rose into San Francisco, and in May, 1847, the Californian was moved to this city. Here the press remained in constant use until the junction of that paper with the California Star, from which union sprang the Alta California. As Yerba Buena increased and as the mines developed, another town began to arise. A few small houses were built under the shadow of Sutter's Fort, and as Sacramento City assumed shape and locality, the services of the old press were needed there, and in April, 1849, it was removed from this city to New Helvetia for the purpose of getting out the first number of the Placer Times. This was the first paper published in the interior of California. Number after number appeared weekly, scarcely larger than a letter sheet, and the press did faithful service in the building up of the northern metropolis of the State.

But meanwhile a nucleus for a town was forming on the San Joaquin also, which was looked forward to as destined to be the metropolis of the South. As the first flint marks of streets were seen, Stockton must of course have its newspaper, and the Placer Times having been able to procure a better press, the old Pioneer, faithful to the work marked out for it, took up its line of march again, and before many days on its aged bed was laid the first copy of the Stockton Times. It almost seems that it could ill brook the thronging of civilization about it. It must ever be a boarder.

It was not long before yet another town sprang up farther in the interior. This was at first a mere mining village, but the Yankee was there and be must have his newspaper. Stockton had grown into a large sized place, a second hand, but a very good press had been received at the Timesoffice, the great clumsy press was packed up to Sonora, and before many days the first number of the Sonora Herald appeared. But Sonora soon followed in the footsteps of San Francisco and Sacramento and Stockton; from a village it became a town, from a town a city, and it was no place for the old Rampage. Its pioneer journey was not ended yet. It must go still farther into the mountains before its work was done. Columbia was rising into importance and the press that had passed from town to town in the vanguard of civilization, was dispatched to that place for the purpose of assisting in getting out the Colombia Star. However tempted we may be, we will not say that this time it got a little too far from civilization.

In the Sonora Herald we find the following account of what took place after its removal to Columbia, the remarks accompanying which we subscribe to and republish with pleasure:


The old Pioneer Press of California, which was recently sold, together with other printing materials, to George W. Gore of the Columbia Star, and for which a balance of $370 was left unpaid according to contract, was attached as security. On trial, the jury, without hesitation, gave the verdict against Mr. Gore. We then proposed to allow any reasonable time for the payment, provided a good bond was given. A counsellor advised to the contrary, and the supposition was, that there would be no bidding at the sale, and that the whole concern would be knocked off at a trifling sum. We instructed a person, however, to bid for us to a certain amount, and it was knocked off to him at $310. After packing up the materials and removing them to a store for sate keeping till the next morning, as it was impossible to procure a team at the time, it was proposed to leave the press where it stood till morning, and to pay the person having charge of the building for the privilege. But he asked only thirty-two dollars! Whereupon it was thought best to remove it from the premises. It was accordingly taken apart, and all except the frame was deposited under roof. The frame, however, being bulky, was left upon the sidewalk. The night was a fit time for such kind of work, and the opportunity was improved by certain persons, to remove the frame back to its former place, and there it was burned. As regards our own loss, it is nothing at all; for all the materials which are of any use to us have been saved but for the sake of the profession, and for the credit of California, whose first newspaper was printed on this press, we do regret the outrage. The town of Columbia has immortalized herself, and her citizens can hereafter congratulate themselves on being residents of a place which burns up relics valued by every printer, and revered by every man who feels any pride in the past history of California.

We sent yesterday for the charred and half consumed timber which constituted the frame, and brought it to our office, in front of which it is now deposited for examination by all who feel interested in the relic. It shall be duly labelled and preserved, not only to show what it once was, and in memory of its past services; but also to show to the better members of society who are fast emigrating to California, how different has been the character of some of her settlers. The appearance of the press alone, as it now stands, forms a chapter in the history of the State; and whenever a State Museum may be established it shall be placed in the collection.

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The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.




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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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