Bumpy beginning, but quite a ride
Sat., May 19, 2007
The first-ever edition of the Spokane Falls Review was published on May 19, 1883 – which means The Spokesman-Review begins its 125th year today.
Or maybe tomorrow. The masthead on Vol. 1, No. 1, gives the date as May 19, but evidence suggests the first edition didn’t hit the town’s muddy streets until a day later, because – well, because the editor got lost.
Editor Frank Dallam, newly arrived from California, had ordered a new press from San Francisco, but part of the machinery hadn’t shown up on time. So an anxious Dallam loaded his “forms” – pages of type – into a wagon and bumped his way toward Cheney, where the Cheney Sentinel had agreed to let him use its press.
Let’s allow Dallam himself to tell the story:
“I started out for (Cheney), perfectly ignorant of the wagon road or the lay of the country. That ignorance caused me more misery, for when daylight appeared, I was near a small cabin and knocked the people out to find ‘where I was at.’ … I was close to Spangle, almost in an opposite direction from Cheney.”
So he wearily pointed his wagon back to the northwest. By the time he got to Cheney and printed the paper, he had missed his own deadline.
In an item headlined, “Explanation,” he discreetly avoided any mention of getting lost in Spangle, but described the press-shipment problem.
“The paper is a day late on that account,” said the item, “but we hope this delay will not happen again anytime soon.”
It didn’t. By the third issue, the missing part arrived and the Spokane Falls Review was printed on its own press.
Within 11 years, that little weekly paper morphed into The Spokesman-Review, which became the region’s biggest daily newspaper.
And it all began because the little town of Spokane Falls, with an estimated population of only 1,500 in 1883, had an opening for a Republican-leaning newspaper.
Dallam had scouted out this up-and-coming town a few months earlier. He had been brought up in an old Midwestern newspaper family and had come west to run a weekly in Hayward, Calif. Yet he liked Spokane’s prospects and tried to buy the weekly Chronicle, which had been publishing since 1881. The Chronicle wouldn’t sell, but some city fathers soon persuaded him that the city would be happy to have another paper of an opposite political persuasion.
“I informed them gently of my mission, and as the Chronicle had a decided leaning toward democracy (the Democratic Party), and I would not publish anything but a paper advocating Republicanism, they were very solicitous in their efforts to induce me to locate in Spokane,” said Dallam, in a reminiscence published in “Spokane and the Inland Empire,” by N.W. Durham (himself an old Review managing editor).
So Dallam ordered a press, returned to Spokane and began the Spokane Falls Review. Its politics were Republican, which had been the country’s dominant party since Lincoln. Yet Dallam made it clear that the paper’s real focus would be “intensely local.”
“No effort will be made to please all, for to attempt the accomplishment of that impossibility requires acrobatic skill with the pen that the writer is not educated up to,” he wrote.
The little weekly thrived from the beginning, helped by a scoop that arrived on Dallam’s desk in the form of an actual scoop – a pile of gold nuggets. Prospector Andrew Prichard showed up in Dallam’s office in the fall of 1883 and poured a pile of gold onto a sheet of paper, according to “News For an Empire,” a 1952 history of the Spokesman-Review by Ralph E. Dyar.
So Dallam’s little newspaper broke a story that reverberated all around the country: the Coeur d’Alene gold strike. This launched a massive mining boom for Spokane and the region.
By June 10, 1884, Dallam expanded the weekly Review into a daily called the Spokane Falls Evening Review (the word “Falls” was soon dropped). Then, in 1885, the paper switched to morning publication and became The Morning Review.
The Chronicle, owned by longtime pioneer H.T. Cowley (note the “y” at the end of the name), responded by becoming an evening daily in 1886. The Review and Chronicle were locked in a war for circulation, but it was a particularly friendly war. Both papers were united in the goal of promoting Spokane’s growth and prosperity.
“Throughout Mr. Cowley’s ownership, the most amicable relations existed between the Chronicle and the Review,” Dallam said later. “There was no unseemly rivalry, no personalities and the papers worked along common lines in aiding the upbuilding of the place.”
The Chronicle under Cowley, a former missionary, refused to accept ads for liquor and gambling establishments. This gave a marketing advantage to the Review, since liquor and gambling were among the town’s leading industries.
Dallam soon acquired several partners. Yet disagreements ensued and in 1887 Dallam sold out to two of his partners. This ended the Dallam era (but not for good, since his son, Frank Dallam Jr., became the paper’s chief editorial writer in 1938).
After several quick changes in ownership, the proprietors of Portland’s Oregonian newspaper bought a major share of The Morning Review in 1888. The newspaper’s offices were moved to its present site on Monroe Street and Riverside Avenue. The offices barely escaped damage in the Great Fire of 1889 and within two years, the Review was building a brick tower on the site.
Meanwhile, in 1890, a new morning newspaper emerged: The Spokesman, started by a former part-owner of the Review, Horace T. Brown. The Spokesman immediately played up the widespread notion that the Review had been taken over by interlopers from Portland. They referred to the Review as “The Spokane Oregonian,” “The Morning Alien” and the “Portland Breeze.”
The Spokesman was partially funded and staffed by several ambitious journalists Brown had recruited from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Times. One of those investors was W.H. Cowles, the young police reporter of the Chicago Tribune (and the son of the Tribune’s former secretary-treasurer). In 1891, his friends convinced him to protect his investment by coming out to The Spokesman as a part-owner and business manager.
Both papers were throwing money into their operations in a desperate effort to gain an advantage. Their mutual hostility was evident for all to read. The Review referred to its rival as “The Squaksman;” The Spokesman referred to the Review as “Portland’s Spokane Offshoot” and also began to refer to it as “Tall Tower,” a reference to the 165-foot tower which was dedicated in 1891.
The two six-day-a-week papers had an unwritten agreement not to publish on Mondays, but one Sunday night in 1892, a Spokesman staffer walked past the Tall Tower and saw lights inside. He immediately suspected that the Review was planning to start a surprise Monday edition. He was right; the next morning The Review hit the streets with a headline reading “Good Morning! How is this for a surprise party?”
The Spokesman came up with a surprise of its own; its staff had mobilized late Sunday night and printed their own Monday edition. From then on, both publications were seven-day-a-week papers.
However, both were bleeding money. The city could not support two morning dailies. So in 1893, the Review approached The Spokesman with a consolidation deal. The agreement, reached quickly, called for The Spokesman to be shut down and for The Spokesman’s W.H. Cowles to become a one-fourth owner of the consolidated paper, which was named The Spokane Review.
So when The Spokesman published its last issue in February 1893, it appeared to be dead forever. Yet in just a little more than a year, events conspired to resurrect the name.
The financial panic of 1893 had hit Spokane – and The Spokane Review – hard. Three of the four partners in the paper were financially stretched. In 1894, Cowles bought them out.
On the morning of June 29, 1894, the paper arrived with a new name: The Spokesman-Review. Cowles, the sole owner and de facto editor, had revived “Spokesman” and put it first, because “Review” still carried a Portland taint, according to Dyar.
Other newspaper rivals came and went, but The Spokesman-Review became well-entrenched. The Spokesman-Review’s circulation in 1894 was about 4,000; by 1900, it had more than doubled to above 10,000.
Finally, in 1897, Cowles bought the paper’s longtime evening competitor, the Spokane Daily Chronicle. The Chronicle continued on as an independent editorial entity for 86 years until the newsrooms finally merged in 1983, and ceased publication in 1992.
Today, the Spokesman-Review is still owned by the Cowles family, still occupies the Tall Tower and is still the region’s major daily. The paper now has huge banks of roaring presses, fleets of trucks and an online edition.
Yet, if an emergency should arise, staffers say they would still be willing to trudge to Cheney to print the paper. This time, they’re pretty sure they could find it.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.