The Hood River Glacier, Hood River, OR., April 1, 1915, page 6
S.F. BLYTHE TELLS OF PIONEER DAYS
When S.F. Blythe, accompanied by Mrs. Blythe, recently
stopped in Portland for a visit with their son, E.N. Blythe, and family,
while en route from southern California, where they spent the winter visiting
their daughter, Mrs. D.T. Marlor, and family, Rex Lampman, a writer of the
Oregon Journal discussed with him incidents of pioneer days, and as a result
the following article recently appeared in the Journal:
As soon as a civil war was over Samuel F. Blythe, of Hood River, joined the march toward the sunset across the great plains. He had served through the war. His party of westward trekkers set out from St. Joe, Mo., with an ox train, heading for the Gallatin valley, Montana, where they proposed to take land.
They had a fight with the Indians in the Little Big Horn country, on about the same ground that later drank the blood of Custer and his command. The Indians were Souix. They were beaten off after a stubborn struggle, the white men shooting from the shelter of their wagons, parked in a circle. Three of the white men were buried by moonlight after the Indians had been beaten off. Then the oxen were hitched up, and the men forced them with goad and whip as fast as they could travel for 17 hours, all the time without water.
This adventure is one of the many high lights in Mr. Blythe's long career -- for he was 73 years old last month. He was born in Adams county, Pennsylvania, February 14, 1842. He entered as a printer's apprentice in the office of the Franklin Repository, in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1856, and can remember setting type on President Pierce's next to last message.
Having learned his trade, he worked west into Ohio and Indiana, setting type in the troublous antebellum days in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, and other towns in the Ohio valley.
Mr. Blythe is well known to the older members of the printing craft in Portland. They remember him as the man who could set more type in a week than any of them. Other printers could, or would, set more type for a day, or two or three days, but at the end of the week Sam Blythe would usually draw more than any of the other "swifts."
The most that Mr. Blythe ever made in a week was at Virginia City, territorial capital of Montana. He went there in the spring of '67 with some other printers who had settled in the Gallatin valley. Like him, they needed money to keep them until their homesteads could become a source of income. They were paid $1 a thousand ems. One week Sam drew $144. Several times he drew $100.
"We look worked long hours," said Mr. Blythe last week that the home of his son, E.N. Blythe, who, like his father, is a printer and newspaper man. "The law said that the work should be set in small pica, 11 point. Ten point was the nearest size to it in the office, that of the Montana Post. So we set the legislative bills in 10 poiny, with a pica or 12 point slug between lines. The slugs counted, and with the type made 22 points for every line of type and slug, as though two lines had been set in 11 point. We set the type for the paper, which issued three times a week, but, of course, we made our big money on the state work."
After the legislature adjourned, Mr. Blythe worked on the journals for the Odd Fellows and Masonic lodges, which had just organized in Montana.
Early in '68, with a stake of $1500, Mr. Blythe returned to Ohio, where he had worked as a printer before the war.
The trip from Fort Benton, Montana, to Sioux City, Iowa, was made by steamboat on the Missouri river, and was long, because the boat did not run at night for fear of snags. Sioux City was connected with the east by rail. Arriving there on Saturday Mr. Blythe had to lay over until Monday, as trains did not run on Sunday in those day.
"I had not been back in Ohio long before I saw I had made a mistake," said Mr. Blythe, "and I determined to go west again. I had visited the scenes of my early labors, and was fully satisfied that there were better chances for a printer in the far west."
One of the places that Mr. Blythe visited on this trip was Wabash, Ind., where he had been a compositor on the Plaindealer before the outbreak of the war.
"The paper was democratic, and the party was split," said Mr. Blythe, "Breckenridge was nominated for president by one wing and Douglas by the other. The editor, whose name was McGonigle, did not know which candidate to support. He wrote an editorial supporting Breckenridge. Then he turned over the same sheet and wrote one supporting Douglas on the other side. Handing the copy to me he went out on the street. I set one of the articles, which one I do not remember. Pretty soon, before I could set the other, McGonigle came back, having felt the public pulse to some extent, and wrote an editorial supporting Lincoln, the Republican. This I put out into type, and it was printed.
"I was a Democrat myself, and I believe that the Democratic party was the only thing that could save the country. When Lincoln was elected I thought the country had gone to smash. Lincoln was not idolized in those days as he was later. Politics were pretty severe, and attacks were made on a candidate's personality, rather than on the principles he espoused.
"But when the war broke out I enlisted in the Twenty-second Ohio volunteers, and served four years. After my enlistment, which was served in the western field of war, I joined the veteran volunteer army that served the rest of the war in the eastern field."
Mr. Blythe was at the siege of Vicksburg. As soon as the surrender came, he went right into the city "on his own hook," without waiting for a pass or permission. Hungry for the sight of a print shop, he soon found one. The forms of a paper were ready to go to press, just as the rebel soldier-printers had left them. In the forms were articles ridiculing the Union besiegers, lampooning General Grant and telling of the impossibility of his taking the city. With the slight alterations that the Union soldier-printers added when they found the forms, was provided the famous Vicksburg siege newspaper, thousands of facsimile copies of which, printed on wallpaper like the originals, are now extant.
"I was the first Union man in the shop, I think, and left before the others came, or I would have had a hand in getting out that paper," said Mr. Blythe.
After the capture of Vicksburg and Fort Donaldson, Mr. Blythe was with troops that fought in Arkansas, having the rebels irregulars, or guerrillas, as their opponents, principally.
But with the war behind, two trips across the plains to his credit, and a knowledge that he could no longer be satisfied in the east, the year 1869 found Mr. Blythe working at his trade in San Francisco.
He came to Portland July 5, 1870, with several other printers from San Francisco, where they had been hired by Ben Holladay, the pioneer railroad man to come to Portland and work on a morning daily paper, to be called the Bulletin. On the same steamer came a complete plant for the paper.
The Bulletin was established and for a time flourished. But Holladay lost his grip and the paper died in 1875.
"Then six printers, including George H. Hines, president assistant secretary of the Oregon Historical Society, and myself, started the Daily Evening Bee," said Mr. Blythe. "That was in November, 1875.
"Mr. Hines had a job plant, and the paper was issued from his office. A man named D. H. Stearns promoted the deal. He ran the paper, independently politically, until the spring of '76, with some of the boys, dissatisfied, wanted to sell out to one of the parties, they didn't care which. With one other partner, I opposed the sale, but Stearns bought us out, giving us his note and a sit on the paper at 60 cents a thousand as long as we cared to stay. I put the note in George Himes' safe, and it may be there yet for all I know."
In 1877 Mr. Blythe bought the land at Hood River which is now his home. He had been married in 1873 to Miss Emma Nation, of Portland. They moved to Hood River in 1878. Twice after that the family lived in Portland, but since 1889 the home has been at Hood River.
In 1894 Mr. Blythe bought the Hood River Glacier, a weekly paper. He ran it for 10 years, selling out to A.D. Moe, the present a publisher, in May, 1904.
© Jeffrey L. Elmer