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Colonel Thompson's First Newspaper Venture.
I remained at the home of Mr. Allen a few days, making frequent visits, you may be sure, to the camp of my friends. I then returned to our camp at the hot springs. My brother had become quite strong and my other brother then decided to return to the valley. Left alone, we indulged in long rambles in the mountains. Taking a pair of blankets each, and baking up a lot of bread, we would strike out. We never knew where we were going, but wandered wherever fancy led. These tramps often lasted a week or ten days. If our bread gave out we simply went without bread until our return to camp. During one of these trips we ascended one of the Three Sisters, snow mountains standing together and reaching to the realms of the clouds. Like mighty sentinels, white as the driven snow, they constitute one of the grandest sights to be seen on this or any other continent. To the north of these mountains and in a valley formed by the angle of the three mountains, we explored the largest glacier to be found in the United States. In this manner the months wore away until the approach of the fall storms admonished us that our wandering life must come to a close, but we had found that which we sought, perfect health. When we went to the mountains in the spring my brother weighed 84 pounds, and when we reached Eugene City on our return he weighed 165, nearly doubling his weight. I had also gained heavily, in fact, nearly 50 pounds. I mention this that others seeking that most precious of all blessings, perfect health, may know how and where to find it - by simply going back to nature.
Soon after my return to civilization I embarked in my first newspaper venture. I was employed in the office as compositor and foreman and at the expiration of the first month had to take the "plant, fixtures and good will," for my pay. In fact, I was given the office on a promise to run the paper and keep it alive. I so far succeeded that after a year and a half I sold out, clearing $1200. The paper, the Eugene City Guard, is still in existence.
From there I went to Roseburg and started the Plaindealer. In this I had the moral support and hearty good will of General Joseph Lane, as well as other citizens of the county. My success was phenomenal, my subscription list running up to 1200 in two years. But as in all else in this world, success was not attained without gaining the enmity and bitter hatred of my would-be rivals in business. Theirs was an old established paper, conducted by two brothers, Henry and Thomas Gale. They soon saw their business slipping away and sought to regain it by indulging in abuse of the coarsest character. I paid no further attention to their attacks than to occasionally poke fun at them. One Saturday evening I met one of the brothers in the post office. He began an abusive harangue and attempted to draw a pistol. I quickly caught his hand and struck him in the face. Bystanders separated us and he left. I was repeatedly warned that evening to be on my guard, but gave the matter little concern. The next morning, Sunday, June 11, 1871, I went to my office as was my custom, to write my letters and attend to some other matters before going to church. On leaving the office I was joined by a young friend, Mr. Virgil Conn. As we proceeded down the street towards the post office I saw the brothers standing talking on the street. One looked up and saw me, evidently spoke to his brother, and they then started toward me. I saw at once that it was to be a fight and that I must defend myself. Some said I could have avoided a meeting by turning in a different direction. Probably I could, at least for a time, but I had started to the post office and there I intended to go. As we approached the young men, one of them dropped behind, and as I passed the first one he dealt me a blow with a heavy cane. At the same instant the other drew a pistol and fired, the bullet taking effect in my side and passing partly through. Stunned by the blow on my cheek, I reeled and drawing my pistol fired point blank at the breast of the one who had shot me. I was then between the men, and turning on the one with the cane, he threw up his hands, as if to say "I am unarmed." As I again turned he quickly drew his revolver and shot me in the back of the head, and followed it up with another shot which was aimed at the butt of my ear. I felt the muzzle of the revolver pressed against my ear, and throwing up my head the bullet entered my neck and passed up through my mouth and tongue and lodged back of my left eye. As I rushed at him he fired again, the bullet entering the point of my shoulder while another entered my body. That was his last shot.
I was taken to my home in a blanket and few thought that I would live to reach it. I was not, however, done for yet, and the next Thursday was out riding with one of my physicians. The affair created the wildest excitement, a noted surgeon, Dr. Sharples, coming from Eugene City to attend me. Throughout the Eastern States there was various comment by various publications, referring to the affair as "The Oregon Style." I refer to the matter here because of the many distorted and unfair stories that have appeared from time to time. It is in no spirit of braggadocio, but simply to give the facts. That I deplored the affair, and deeply, too, I freely confess, but only for the necessity which compelled me to defend my life.
On the following February 1 received an offer to take charge of the Salem Mercury. Leaders of the party, among them three ex-Senators, the Governor of the State and many others prominent in the affairs of Oregon, purchased the paper and plant and tendered me a bill of sale for the same. Ex-Senator Nesmith, ex-Senator Harding, Governor Grover, ex-Governor Whitaker, General Joseph Lane and many others urged me to the step. They argued that I could unite all the factions of the party in support of a party paper at the capital of the State. To a young man scarcely twenty-three this was a tempting and flattering offer. I sold my paper, therefore, at Roseburg and with $4000 in money and good paper, and a bill of sale of an office costing $2500, started to Salem. My success there as a newspaper man was all that could be desired. A large circulation was rapidly built up, and a daily as well as weekly started.
In November of the same year occurred the first outbreak of the Modoc Indians and a score of settlers and a few soldiers had been killed. Governor Grover had ordered out two companies of volunteers under General John E. Ross, a veteran of the Rogue River war, to assist the regular army in quelling the insurrection. The outbreak, only for the butchery of the citizens along the Lost river and Tule lake, was not regarded as at all serious, as a few weeks would suffice to crush or destroy the savages. But as weeks rolled on and still no surrender, nor even a fight, the Governor became uneasy, since he could not understand the delay. Finally, early in January, Judge Prim arrived from Jackson county and had a conference with the Governor. It was scarcely 9 o'clock in the morning when Mr. Gilfrey, private secretary to the Governor, came to my office with a message that Governor Grover wished to see me at his office at once. When I arrived there I found the Governor, Judge Prim and General John F. Miller in consultation. The Governor explained to me that there were stories of needless waste of time, that the Indians had not been attacked, though there were 450 men within a few miles of their camp, that hints of graft were afloat. Would I go in company with General Miller and when could I start? I replied that I would go and by the eleven o'clock train if General Miller was ready.
Perhaps here is a proper place for a short history of the Modoc Indians; their long series of murders and massacres - a series of appalling crimes that have given to their country the name of "the dark and bloody ground of the Pacific." Of all the aboriginal races of the continent the Modocs stand pre-eminent as the most fierce, remorseless, cunning and treacherous. From the day the white man first set foot upon his soil the Modoc has been a merciless foe with whom there could be no peace. The travelers through his country were forced to battle for their lives from the day his country was entered until the boundary was passed. Trains of immigrants, consisting of men, women and children, worn and weary with the trials and hardships of the plains, were trapped and butchered. The number of these victims mount up into the hundreds and constitute one of the saddest chapters in the annals of American pioneers.