By Cory Peterman
Heroes of The Mountain Messenger
Carl Butz, current editor of The Mountain Messenger, became a local hero when he stepped in to take over the newspaper after former editor Don Russell decided to retire, thus maintaining the publication’s record of being the oldest continuously-published newspaper in the state of California. However, this wasn’t the first time a hero was needed for The Mountain Messenger! Several newspapers related the following story from when The Mountain Messenger was located in La Porte (then known as Rabbit Creek) in the 1850s:
“Nothing less than a major catastrophe could keep the ‘Mountain Messenger’ of Rabbit Creek, Calif., from going to press on time in the 1850’s.
One day in 1856 Mr. Albert T. Dewey, the editor, was put to test when the press ran out of ink. After much deliberation, it was decided to try out a mixture of axle grease and stove black as an ink substitute.
Aside from a flood of complaints from readers that the ink stained their fingers, the run was completed with no further trouble.”
In 1936, it was reported “Vic Cassidy, mining editor of the Auburn Journal for the past two years, this week leased the Mountain Messenger in Downieville, for a period of five years. Cassidy has an option of five years. Cassidy has a stock during the term of the lease.
He is the son of former Senator Bert A. Cassidy, who owns the Auburn Journal in Auburn. He is a graduate of Placer Union High School in Auburn, and for the past three and one-half years has been in the employ of the Journal plant.” But even a major catastrophe hasn’t stopped publication of The Mountain Messenger.
The following year, on December 10, 1937, a devastating flood destroyed many buildings in Downieville and wiped out the town’s bridges. After the flood, the Oakland Tribune reported “The Old Mountain Messenger, in its eighty-fourth year, came out last week, just as if there had never been a flood in its city. It takes something more than high water to put this veteran out of business.” This paper later reported The Mountain Messenger “hesitated a day or so, but came out with the story and still has a roof over its old type and wood cuts.”
When the staff of the Oakland Tribune spoke with the father of the editor, former senator Bert Cassidy, he was quoted as saying his son “was much disturbed over conflicting demands of his obligations as a news reporter and his duty as a neighbor and citizen.
Vic was all worked up trying to decide whether to leave town long enough to file a story of what had happened – there’s no way of telephoning or telegraphing from Downieville – or whether he ought to stay right there and help the relief workers.
He told me ‘here I’ve got the best story of my life, and I can’t get it out to give it to anybody, unless I walk out on my neighbors.’” The newspaper was published the day after the flood, on December 11, 1937, with the heading “Raging Waters of Yuba Devastate Downieville.”
However, a few years later, a different event almost led the publication of The Mountain Messenger to cease. The Plumas Independent of November 12, 1942 reported “Downieville’s Paper Becomes War Casualty – Downieville’s Mountain Messenger, one of the oldest newspapers in California, which has a record for continuous publication for about ninety years, will suspend because of conditions which have arisen in Sierra county as a result of the war and the WPB order closing gold mines, Victor Cassidy, the publisher has informed friends in Marysville. The publisher plans to enter war production work in one of the coast centers.
The weekly, Cassidy declared, will probably be consolidated with the Loyalton paper, which has an agricultural, livestock and lumbering background.” This did not occur, but Cassidy soon returned the paper back to its stockholders – however, these events didn’t stop the paper from being published!
The Sacramento Bee reported “Due to its great age and sentimental appeal a strong effort is being made to perpetuate the old newspaper” and that the paper “will not succumb to war’s devastations after all.” With the fear of skipping an issue, the stockholders “appealed to Rev. Albert A. Kyburz of the Downieville Methodist Church, who had newspaper experience, to do something about it. He took the masthead and the well worn title bar into a Nevada City newspaper office preliminary to getting out the paper… One issue already has gone to the subscribers and two more are getting ready for the press. The paper will be a few days late, but those keeping files of this publication are assured they will not miss either volume or serial number…
Rev. Kyburz plans to have the Messenger’s old home in Downieville renovated and to bring the paper back here for printing within a week or two.” It was reported the stock company had “the interests of its community at heart and knows the value of a newspaper as a public asset.” The Mountain Messenger was sold to Eugene C. Stowe in 1943, with his taking possession occurring on November 1st of that year.
Thanks to heroes like Victor Cassidy, Reverend Albert Kyburz, and Carl Butz, The Mountain Messenger has yet to cease publication!