History Of Merced County California



The first newspaper of Merced County was the Merced Banner, established by Robert J. Steele and his wife, Rowena Granice Steele, at Snelling, in the summer of 1862. The press and material were purchased from the Stanislaus Index, at Knight's Ferry, Stanislaus County; and as we have seen before, they were hauled from Knight's Ferry to Snelling by Peter Fee with his ox team. Mrs. Steele is presumably the author of the account in the 1881 Elliott & Moore history, and she says there that it was on the 25th of June when Fee arrived with the press and type. Fee's diary shows that this was an error and that it was on July 2 when he arrived. Mrs. Steele says the first issue came out on July 5. Mrs. Steele's two sons, Steele's stepsons, Harry and George Granice, Mrs. Steele tells us, were then aged respectively nine and twelve years; we shall find the family figuring in the newspaper history of the county for nearly thirty years. So far as we have been able to learn, there are no files, nor even copies, of the Banner now in existence.

In the 1881 history Mrs. Steele has this paragraph: "The Banner was a Democratic paper, but not disloyal. It was not Democratic enough for some. Things were getting so unpleasant that Mrs. Steele withdrew her name from the paper as editress; she still continued to write domestic stories and pleasant locals." We have seen that the editorials in Wigginton and Robertson's Herald after the war was over were what we should consider now very strong and partisan; just how strong and partisan those in the Banner were we have no samples to show us. At any rate a party of Union soldiers in February, 1864, came to Snelling and threw the press and type out of the window. Mrs. Steele styles them ruffians and naturally enough takes the stand that the Banner and its owners were made martyrs. An article entitled "History of Snelling" in the Argus of June 18, 1870, says this occurred on February 1. Mrs. Steele tells us that when the men came in she was busy preparing breakfast in a back room, and that she caught up her infant son and made her escape; this infant son was presumably Lee J. Steele, who was later to edit the Argus. According to Mrs. Steele's account the soldiers were twenty-eight in number, and stated that they were a band of brothers on our own hook." She has the following foot-note: "It was afterwards ascertained that this ruthless set of fellows were a company of United States Cavalry, who had been sent from Benicia to Visalia under Captain Starr, but had become so unruly that the Captain had sent a request to headquarters to have them exchanged for a company of Infantry, and they were on their way back to Benicia and had reached Hill's Ferry, when they proposed to cross over to Snelling and 'bust up the Banner office.' Captain Starr refused to accompany them, and being defenseless with twenty-eight armed men on a desert, he could not detain them. The excuse of the ruffians was that certain articles reflecting upon them as soldiers had appeared in the Banner, and they would have their revenge."

In J. W. Robertson's Herald of February 10, 1866, we get the following light upon the end of the Banner and upon its immediate successors: " 'Some of our exchanges are yet quoting news items from the Merced Banner, which has been dead two years.'—Colusa Sun. You are nearly right, Mr. Sun, as to the Banner. That sheet expired in June, 1864, after a lingering illness—brought on by some of Uncle Sam's soldiers. They 'pied' the concern in February, after which it never came fully to life again. It was succeeded by the Merced Democrat, edited by one Hall, who was sent to Alcatraz for 'treason'—and the Democrat succumbed. Then followed the Democratic Record, which lived till after the Presidential election. Now the Herald is on the boards, and is bound to live. We are neither afraid of the soldiers or Alcatraz, and as long as the Herald is as well supported as at present, neither Principalities nor Powers shall hold us down. So, gentlemen of the Press, if you see anything in our little sheet worth copying, why copy it but be sure and give the Herald credit therefor."

In the Argus of June 18, 1870, in the article already referred to on the History of Snelling, we read that the Banner was "busted up" by the Union soldiers on February 1, 1864, and that it continued in a smaller form until June 18 of the same year. Then three issues of the Merced Democrat were published by "Wm. Pierce, alias Wm. Hall," who then went to Alcatraz. Then in September, 1864, F. C. Lawrence started the Democratic Record, which continued three months. Then follows the history of the Herald, which was established by J. W. Robertson and P. D. Wigginton on May 13, 1865. Wigginton severed his connection with the paper on September 30, 1865, and Robertson continued it; he had the aid of a man named Kennedy for a few weeks, after which he continued it alone until November 10, 1866, when W. G. Collier became associated with him until July 10, 1867. On May 11, 1867, the paper was enlarged to six columns. On October 12, 1867, Robertson sold out to L. W. Tal-bott, under whom the paper languished for thirteen weeks, and then expired; the editor's illness appears to have been the reason. Talbott had a man named Wickham associated with him in the enterprise.

Robert J. Steele revived the Herald on August 22, 1868, after an interval extending from January 11, when Talbott's last number appeared. Steele's last issue of the Herald appeared on August 14, 1869. He had apparently been operating under a contract with the former owners for this year. After skipping one week, he brought out the first issue of the San Joaquin Valley Argus on August 28,1869. The Argus continued to be the only paper in the county until after the new town of Merced had been established. Less than two months after the sale of lots in the new town, L. F. Beckwith established the Merced Tribune. We find in the Argus along shortly before this, when the rumor first circulated that someone was coming to Merced to start a paper, a rather scorching article from Steele's pen by way of welcome. And the Steele family had forestalled Beckwith's move, for on March 24, 1872, Harry H. Granice, Steele's stepson, established the Merced People, which was therefore the first paper in Merced. The Merced People ran for only fourteen issues; and then on June 22, 1872, Harry Granice, in a "Valedictory" editorial, bows himself off the newspaper stage—for the time being. He was to come back, about two years and a half later, in the most tragic incident in Merced County newspaper history.

Beckwith ran the Tribune for about a year and was succeeded by a young man named Edward Madden. Just about the time that Madden took over the Tribune, Steele, on April 5, 1873, moved the Argus office from Snelling over to Merced. We have seen that Steele, in 1869, when there was talk of establishing a paper in Plainsburg, made objections; also, as just mentioned above, that he scored the newcomer who was proposing to establish a paper in Merced. There is no use at this late day in trying to establish the blame for the bitter feeling, which led to the tragedy of December 7, 1874. There are many scathing editorials in both the Argus and the Tribune during the time from April, 1873, to December, 1874—and it is evident that there must have been bitter hatred between Madden and the Steeles. Mrs. Steele, who was a tireless writer, had written a book and was going about the central portion of the State canvassing for orders for it. On December 5, 1874, Madden published in his Tribune a short paragraph about this which Harry Granice, Mrs. Steele's son, took to be an unforgivable insult to his mother; and on the following Monday, December 7, 1874, as Madden was walking with his friend Hamilton, the county auditor, on Front Street in front of where M. Zirker's store now is, Granice stepped out with a navy revolver and shot him dead, firing five or six shots into his body.

Feeling ran very high, and Sheriff Meany sent N. Breen and a man named Hathaway with the prisoner to the Half Way House, later known as the Six Mile House, on the road towards Snelling, to get him away from a mob which gathered. The mob proceeded out toward the Half Way House; and as they approached, or news of their approach arrived, Granice escaped—it was disputed whether with the acquiescence of the officers. He made good his escape for the time being and is said to have been hidden for several days in a friend's home in Merced. He seems to have given himself up later. We read of the sheriff sending R. Shaffer to take him to the jail at Modesto for safe-keeping.

In the Express of March 20, 1875, we read that, in the case of the People vs. Harry Granice (indicted for murder), in the district court, no district attorney being present, the court appointed R. H. Ward to represent the people; that Ward was assisted by William L. Dudley of Stockton, special prosecutor, and that Jo. Hamilton and E. F. Littlepage represented the defendant; that a motion for a continuance was denied; and that upon motion and affidavit the case was transferred to Fresno County and set for trial on June 23. There was a slight further delay; but on July 7, 1875, Granice went to trial and on July 10 the trial was concluded and the jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree and fixed his punishment at life imprisonment, under a law then apparently from the press comments quit new. A book entitled "Hunted Down, or Five Days in the Fog," was written about Granice's escape at the Half Way House and the subsequent days; it has sometimes been attributed to Mrs. Steele, but a "card" signed by N. Breen and published in the Express during 1875 described it as "purporting to have been written by Harry H. Granice." The card was published by Mr. Breen to deny the truth of several statements in the book, he says, which reflected upon the sheriff and his deputies in their treatment of the prisoner. From the comments of the press at the time, the conviction seems to have been regarded as marking an end of the old pioneer idea that homicide was justifiable for rather numerous causes.

Granice did not serve any of the term, however. Because of some technical flaw in the indictment or proceedings, Judge Terry got him off. It appears that it was either because the indictment turned up missing or because it showed signs of having been altered.

The publication of the Argus was suspended for about three months, apparently, after the killing of Madden; we find it continuing again about March, 1875. The Tribune was published for six issues after Madden's death, December 12, 19, and 26, and January 2, 9, and 16, with Hood Alston as editor, and then the Merced Express continued without a break from where the Tribune left off. The Express was published at the start under a board of directors consisting of P. D. Wigginton, A. J. Meany, Patrick Carroll, E. M. Stoddard, and Samuel C. Bates. The fact that Stoddard was one Republican among four Democrats may perhaps be taken as another indication of the new order of things.

In April, 1875, Frank H. Farrar, who had been managing agent of the Express, became its editor and proprietor. On November 27 of the same year he sold a half interest to W. P. Stoneroad. In March, 1877, N. B. Stoneroad purchased Mr. Farrar's interest and the paper was published by W. P. and N. B. Stoneroad with J. W. Robertson as editor. On March 1, 1879, N. B. Stoneroad sold his interest to W. L. Howell. Howell and W. P. Stoneroad published the paper until January 28, 1882, and then W. P. Stoneroad retired. In July, 1882, Joseph A. Norvell became editor; and in March, 1884, he bought Howell out. Mr. Norvell published the paper until his death in December, 1909. Mrs. Norvell continued its publication until February, 1911, and then sold it to P. H. Griffin, the present proprietor.

The Argus continued until January, 1891, when it was succeeded by the Merced Sun. The paper carried on page 2, until January 25, 1890, the names of Robert J. Steele, Editor, and Mrs. R. G. Steele, Associate Editor; but on page 1 appeared the names Steele and Steele, Mrs. R. G. Steele, Lee R. Steele, from October 24, 1885, and for a time before that the name of Mrs. Rowena Granice Steele. Robert J. Steele appears to have been ill for several years prior to his death. He died on January 28, 1890. Following that the name of Mrs. Steele appears on both page 1 and page 2 until June 7, 1890. In that issue Lee R. Steele's name appears on page 2, and in the next issue on both page 1 and page 2, as editor and publisher.

On October 4, 1886, the Daily Argus was launched, with Lee R. Steele as editor. It was a small four-page five-column paper. No files seem to be extant, but by quotations in the weekly "From Monday's Daily"—or some other day's—it appears to have continued as long as the weekly.

During the summer of 1890 there was established in Merced a paper called the Journal, published by a group of leaders of the High License Party, led by John W. Breckenridge and James F. Peck. Both the Journal and the Argus were purchased by Charles D. Radcliffe and J. H. Rogers, and merged in the Merced Sun, the first issue of which appeared on January 19, 1891. Rogers sold out soon to Willard Beebe, and Radcliffe & Beebe continued to publish the paper until 1893, when Beebe sold out to Radcliffe and went to Los Banos and bought the Enterprise at that place. C. D. Radcliffe then ran the Sun alone until 1894, when his brother Corwin Radcliffe came to California and became a partner in the paper. C. D. Radcliffe died on May 26, 1919. After his death, about the beginning of 1920, Urban J. Hoult became a partner and Radcliffe & Hoult published the paper until Hoult's death on October 31, 1924. The publication was continued by Corwin Radcliffe until May 1, 1925.

On June 1, 1880, Charles and Thomas Harris established the Merced Star, a weekly which was published continuously under the firm name of Harris Brothers until April, 1921, although Thomas Harris died many years before this date and the paper was carried on by Charles Harris. In April, 1921, Walter H. Killam, who had purchased the paper, took it over and made it a daily, and continued the publication a little more than four years, to May 1, 1925. On that date, Ray and Hugh McClung, who had purchased both the Star and the Sun, issued the first number of the Merced Sun-Star, the present and now the only daily in the county seat, and indeed in the county.

Outside of the county seat there are now published the following weeklies: The Los Banos Enterprise, established in 1888, B. A. Wilson, proprietor; the Livingston Chronicle, now in its seventeenth volume, Elbert G. Adams, editor and proprietor; the Atwater Signal, Thomas D. Calkins, editor and proprietor (the issue of June 5, which is the date of this writing, is numbered Vol. XV, No. 51); the Gustine Standard, in its seventeenth volume, Miller & Woodruff, proprietors; the Dos Palos Star, in its twenty-ninth volume, Roy M. McKay, publisher; the Le Grand Advocate, in its nineteenth volume, C. L. Zimmerman, editor and publisher; the Hilmar Enterprise, Betty Wright, editor and publisher, in its seventh volume. In Stevinson, for a time a few years ago, was published the Stevinson Colonist, novv discontinued. In Delhi, for the past two or three years, a small paper called the Delhi Record has been published.


WITH A Biographical Review of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been
Identified with Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present

History by:


Contributed by: Carol Lackey