Ojai’s first newspaper proclaims high hopes for the future of valley

The following article first appeared in the March 18, 1970 edition of the Ojai Valley News in the “Ojai Yesterdays” section. The article is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News.

Ojai’s first newspaper proclaims high hopes for the future of valley
Ed Wenig

“THE OJAI makes its first appearance . . . to keep alive before the world the knowledge of the great unrivaled healing climate, the superior home advantages, and the bright business possibilities of the country from which it derives its name.”

Thus wrote Leverett Messick, founder of the THE OJAI in its first edition on October 27, 1891. As editor he had proudly composed the masthead: “THE OJAI . . . For the good of mankind, but telling of the greatest sanitarium for throat and lung troubles in the known world — the famous Ojai Valley.”

“THE OJAI” newspaper office on Matilija st. about 1892. Middle man on the porch is editor Leverett Messick.

THE OJAI continued publication through the peaceful and stormy period of the 1890’s under several editors, each leaving an imprint of his philosophy and each reflecting the changing times. Letters to the editor were faithfully printed, presenting both sides of various topics of discussion.

But apparently the life of an editor of THE OJAI had its perils no matter how hard he tried to be fair to all. In February of 1900 Editor Randolf Freeman wrote an article bearing the headline: “THE OJAI is for sale.” Said he, “Within four years assaults with intent to kill me have been three in number, all unprovoked, and I have never said anything in the paper concerning them, because my adversaries have themselves had no paper of their own, and it would hardly be fair… However, the blow I received on the head this week has shattered by nerves to the extent of incapacitating me for work.”

C. E. Bundy, who took over THE OJAI in September, 1901, wrote, “THE OJAI will exist solely to publish the news of interest to its patrons. It will be found advocating all measures and reforms that will benefit the Valley and its people, but will not be in any sense a censor, morally or socially. No petty personalities will be indulged in by the editor.”

However, when Morrison Swift, a socialist lecturer, came to the valley and began attacking President McKinley in vile terms, continuing his tirades even after McKinley’s assassination, Mr. Bundy threw aside his self-imposed restraints in an unusually strong editorial which concluded as follows: “THE OJAI has a good stout four-by-four with the angles all intact. It will present this to any party of citizens that will give this Swift hombre a ride out of the valley on its corners.” Within two hours after the paper was printed Morrison Swift was arrested and securely locked in the county jail.

Members of the Thacher family were frequent contributors to THE OJAI, and Sherman Thacher, with the cooperation of prominent local citizens published the paper for a few years in the early 1900’s.

The files of THE OJAI published in the 1890’s and early 1900’s form the principal source of information concerning the valley during this era, and make fascinating reading for one who is interested in the local history of this period.

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