Finding The Union newspaper’s founder, hero |

Finding The Union newspaper’s founder, hero

Donna Reynolds
Special to The Union

In honor of the 150th anniversary of The Union. Long may its flag wave amongst the titles of newspapers in the United States, for it was in striving to keep the states united that this paper was founded. May our citizenry be proud of the efforts behind this founding, the history of our long-lived community paper, and be ever mindful that The Union has for 150 years been, and remains still to this day, the best source of news relative to our community.

On Friday Oct. 28, 1864, a new paper made its debut in Nevada County. The Grass Valley Daily Union hit the presses in order to promote the Lincoln/Johnson ticket in the upcoming presidential election, and thus in politics reported the news from the Republican point of view. With election Tuesday a mere 11 days in the future, the task before the newborn Grass Valley Daily Union, whose name can easily be deduced from combining the place the paper was printed; that it was to be published everyday but Monday; and by the fact that it supported the cause of the Union, was met with much ado by the previously established newspaper in Grass Valley, The Daily National.

The two newspapers became bitter rivals from the outset, for not only were they competitors in the same trade, but they also held opposing political beliefs. That the nation itself was struggling in a brother-against-brother conflict, can easily be detected in the early displays of non-brotherly love between these two early Grass Valley newspapers. But alas, we cannot see what The Union, itself, had to say as the first two months of the Grass Valley Daily Union are unfortunately lacking. The earliest edition known to exist bears the publication date of Jan. 1, 1865, and was Vol. 1, No. 55, leaving any known whereabouts of the earlier 54 editions a bit of an enigma.

Rumors of the Grass Valley Daily Union's impending birth had obviously made their way to San Francisco a little earlier as the following clip from the Oct. 27, 1864 Daily Alta California actually predated the Union's first edition by one day:

"The Grass Valley Union is the title of a new Union paper just started in that flourishing mining village."

This premature announcement would soon be backed by other California newspapers of the day:

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"GRASS VALLEY UNION. — The first number of this new paper made its appearance yesterday. It is a size smaller than the TRANSCRIPT. As its name indicates, it is "Union," and we hope it will be the means of turning some of the vile copperheads from the error of their ways. The publishers are Messrs. Thompson & Blumenthal. Success to you gents — all the time." — Nevada Daily Transcript – Oct. 29, 1864

"GRASS VALLEY UNION — The first number of this new paper has made its appearance. It is a size smaller than the Nevada Transcript. The publishers are Thompson & Blumenthal." — Sacramento Daily Union – Oct. 31, 1864

The Nevada Daily Transcript was a local newspaper, published in Nevada City, it too supported the cause of the Union. Not surprisingly, The Daily National contained no report about the news of the arrival of this new Grass Valley paper, and by its very silence conveyed that its was not sending out the welcome wagon. Thus, it is from the reports in the clippings above, heralding the names Thompson & Blumenthal as publishers that a trek to establish the human side of The Union begins.

Thompson is a bit of a mystery, as these are the only known appearances of this surname found affiliated with the paper. It is known that Hugh B. Thompson published the Nevada & Grass Valley Directory in March of 1861 and on May 1 of that same year held the role of secretary in a meeting to organize a Union club at Nevada City. He had also been a public administrator of Nevada County, and was reported to be in Guaymas, Mexico in March of 1863, where he most likely went after some default related to this position had been discovered. Hugh met his fate near Walla Walla, Washington Territory, Aug. 22, 1865, thus whether he ever returned to our area in the interim leaves his being the Thompson we seek extremely doubtful.

Another Thompson found hereabouts was Joseph B. Thompson, who bought Nat Brown's interest in the Nevada Journal on Aug. 9, 1859. The Nevada Journal had suspended its publication on Oct. 18, 1861 and Thompson, who had been one of its former proprietors, bought the presses and material at auction on Feb. 8, 1862 for the grand sum of $2,050. He further announced on Feb. 20, 1862 that the Journal would resume publication as a tri-weekly paper. Thus, Joseph B. Thompson had the wherewithal and the means to be a likely candidate to later assume a publishing position with Mr. Blumenthal, but whether he actually did so, has not been determined.

There is some degree of likelihood that the surname Thompson may have simply been a typo, which instead should have been Townsend, since a fellow by this surname was, for a matter of days, once affiliated with the Grass Valley Daily Union.

J. W. E. Townsend was apparently a bit of a rogue, labeled by others of his day as James William Emery "Lyin' Jim" Townsend. His connection with the paper ended after merely nine days, as he had attempted to sell out the newborn Grass Valley Daily Union to the rival Daily National. Thus his history will be rightfully truncated to the same degree in which he was so shortly connected with the paper.

It was found that earlier in his career Townsend had been a typesetter for the Golden Era, where he was still employed when Bret Harte later arrived to work for this paper. He was later affiliated with the Evening Mirror; the Territorial Enterprise of Virginia City where he once worked with the celebrated Mark Twain; and the Virginia City Daily Union. Following these stints, he came to Grass Valley and on Oct. 28, 1864, edited the first edition of the Grass Valley Daily Union, which was apparently printed on materials from the old Washoe Times.

Townsend betrayed the cause of the Union on Nov. 5, 1864 by attempting the sell-out of the Grass Valley Daily Union and was subsequently ousted from the paper by H. M. Blumenthal. Townsend was later affiliated with the San Francisco Daily Times, and was still with this paper when it later became the Alta California. He and Henry Oliver Waite founded the Antioch Ledger in March of 1870 and Townsend bought his partner out in August of that same year (Oliver Waite had also been a party to the sell-out attempt of the Grass Valley Daily Union). After the Ledger was sold on April 5, 1871, Townsend stayed in the newspaper business by working at the Sacramento Union, and later with the Mining Index in Lundy, Mono Co. He was apparently quite the gad-about, as he was later the editor of the Reno Evening Gazette; worked with the Territorial Enterprise, after which he purchased the Carson Index from Wells Drury.

He later started The Mining Index at Bodie, and afterward purchased the Bodie Evening Miner, combining the two as the Bodie Miner-Index. In Oct. of 1899 he moved to Oakland, Calif, where in May of 1900 he suffered a paralyzing stroke. James William Emery "Lyin' Jim" Townsend died at the age of 62 at the home of his brother, John Townsend, at Lake Forest, Lake County, Ill. on Aug. 11, 1900.

Now that Townsend has been given way more than his two-cents worth, on to Mr. Blumenthal, a man whose history has remained in obscurity for far too many years. Mr. Blumenthal should honestly receive full credit as founder of the Grass Valley Daily Union, since Townsend's gross misconduct would have killed the paper shortly after its birth had Blumenthal not smelled a rat and stepped in to prevent the success of Townsend's evil plan to sell out the newborn paper.

Let's finally meet the man who has up until now been largely missing from the history of The Union.

Henry Meyer Blumenthal

Founder/publisher Grass Valley Daily Union

Oct. 28, 1864 – March 2, 1865

Mr. Blumenthal's exact identity, with the passage of so many years, fell completely by the wayside and he therefore sadly became one of the mystery men behind the founding of the Grass Valley Daily Union.

Throughout the years he has typically been referred to by just his surname, or occasionally accompanied with a first initial, which at times was provided incorrectly. But with the advent of today's technology, the founder of the Grass Valley Daily Union has finally been rediscovered. He loomed into a slightly better light through a string of clues in various newspaper reports that made mention of his name. The first of which was the news of the early trouble between the two rivaling Grass Valley papers, found in the Nevada Daily Transcript's Tuesday, Nov. 8, 1864 report of the J. W. E. Townsend affair which lists him as H. M. Blumenthal:

"AN INFAMOUS ATTEMPT TO SELL OUT A UNION PAPER — One J. W. E. Townsend made an attempt to sell the Grass Valley Union, a loyal paper recently started in that town, on Saturday night last. Townsend went to Grass Valley and in consideration of a sum of money paid him by Union men promised to publish a Union paper until the election. He appropriated this money to his own use and induced H. M. Blumenthal to embark in the enterprise. The latter gentlemen advanced the funds, the material was purchased and the paper started. Mr. Blumenthal states that Mr. Ridge made a proposition to buy the concern. He told Ridge nothing could induce him (to) sell until after the election. Townsend was approached and agreed with the parties to transfer the whole concern. The arrangement was to be consummated on Saturday night and the G.V. Union was to appear on Sunday as a Copperhead journal converted by Jim Coffroth from Unionism. In consequence of the integrity of Mr. Shane, the pressman of the Union, the plan was frustrated and Townsend was obliged to leave the town without getting the "thirty pieces of silver." This contemptible villain went to Grass Valley, swindled the Union men, robbed his partner of the money raised for the benefit of the paper and then crowned his damnable infamy by attempting to sell the paper to the Copperheads, after agreeing to publish a Union paper until after the election. Such a dastard merits the execration of all men of every party who are honest. A lash should be put in the hands of every man that he might scourge the villain through the world." — Nevada Daily Transcript – Tuesday, Nov. 8, 1864.

It was through this lack of integrity that "Lyin' Jim" Townsend took an obviously hasty departure from the Union, and H. M. Blumenthal would later be joined by Mr. Bennett. Mr. Shane, the obliging pressman, of the above article will also resurface a tad later.

But H. M. Blumenthal was in for another rude encounter prior to his gaining a new partner:

"ASSAULT UPON THE PROPRIETOR OF THE GRASS VALLEY UNION. — We are informed that Ridge, Byrne and Roberts went into the Grass Valley Union office yesterday, and demanded the retraction of certain statements made in that paper by Mr. Blumenthal. He refused, and was assaulted by one of the parties, which, we did not learn. We think that such a proceeding was most outrageous and merits the condemnation of every Union man, and every honest copperhead as well. We have various statements concerning the affair and cannot give the details until we get all the facts. We have no doubt these will be developed in the investigation.

"We have since learned that Ridge was the only one of the party that assaulted Blumenthal." — Nevada Daily Transcript – Tuesday, Nov. 8, 1864

As the date of the clippings note, these suspicious events took place just prior to election Tuesday, with the assault occurring on the day before the election. The gentlemen who visited Blumenthal in this dastardly affair were found to be, John Rollin Ridge; William S. Byrne and George D. Roberts, all of whom were affiliated with The Daily National. Of course, the National published its own version of these events in an attempt to turn the tables of blame back toward the Grass Valley Daily Union, but whether a report that also appeared in the National which purported the cause of Ridge's absence immediately after the assault incident helped or hindered their argument is left to conjecture*:

"GONE BELOW — John R. Ridge, of this office, left this morning for San Francisco to see his only daughter, who is lying dangerously ill in that city. Of course his return depends upon the speedy or tardy recovery of his daughter. We make this explanation of Ridge's whereabouts, that some of his dirty calumniators, both in this place and at Nevada, may for once experience even the transitory feelings of men, and refrain from lying in regard to the cause of his absence at the Bay." — The Daily National, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 1864.

The Grass Valley Daily Union next encountered a difficulty in their pressroom which resulted in a temporary problem which seems to have left the editions of Thursday and Friday, Nov. 10 and 11, out of circulation. It would be interesting to know the cause of this "accident." Harken back to the days of yesteryear when the paper was delivered by stage.

"THE GRASS VALLEY UNION. — In consequence of an accident, by which one of the forms of the Grass Valley Union was knocked into "pi," the paper has not made its appearance for two days. We understand that the damage is repaired and that subscribers will receive their papers by stage to-day." — Nevada Daily Transcript – Saturday, Nov. 12, 1864.

H. M. Blumenthal was joined by, H. C. Bennett, who stepped in as editor on Nov. 19, 1864.

"THE GRASS VALLEY UNION appears this morning under the editorial charge of H.C. Bennett, Esq., a gentleman of considerable experience in the business." — Nevada Daily Transcript – Wednesday, Nov. 19, 1864.

The continuance of opposing politically based statements expressed by The Daily National and the Grass Valley Daily Union would again result in a confrontation from John Rollin Ridge. The following clipping was H. C. Bennett's editorial reply on Jan. 14, 1865:

"A PLAIN STATEMENT. — We ask pardon of the readers of the Union for obtruding such matters before them, but the unmanly, cowardly falsehood respecting us, published in the National by its editor J.R. Ridge, compels us to make a plain statement. That vagabond, filled with whiskey, challenged us to fight him on the public streets, he being armed with a pistol, we told him that the streets were a bad place to shoot in, that if he desired the satisfaction of shooting at us, to name his time and place and we would be there. He said, distinctly, that he would fight us on the following morning and we had made all the necessary arrangements for the encounter, which we are still ready to meet. But in place of meeting us as a man, he abuses us, like a low-lived blackguard as he is. We do not calculate to adopt the same course, but shall endeavor to protect ourselves as becomes a man and a gentleman. We shall deeply regret to be compelled to do so on the public streets. Mr. Ridge knows where to find us any time his courage prompts him to need our services." — Grass Valley Daily Union – Saturday, Jan. 14, 1865.

John Rollin Ridge would post his reply in the Daily National claiming that he had never made such a challenge, and the two papers took turns smacking each other with a verbal gauntlet for days. The matter eventually dropped, and the duel never transpired, but H. C. Bennett would none the less bid farewell to the Grass Valley Daily Union. His name disappeared from the publishers line shortly before Jan. 30, 1865 (with his departure likely on the 27th).

The clippings above provided the clue "H. M. Blumenthal" to the identity of the paper's founder, with the next providing reason to believe that he was also a family man.

"CHILD SCALDED. — A child of H. Blumenthal of Grass Valley, was seriously scalded at Temperance Hall, on Saturday night. Some one who was waiting upon the table ran against a lady who had the child in her arms, upsetting a dish of soup upon it. The side of the neck was badly burned." — Nevada Daily Transcript – Tuesday, Feb. 7, 1865.

Also within the month of February, H. M. Blumenthal sold the paper, as seen in the following clipping:

"NEWSPAPER CHANGE. — H. Blumenthal has sold the Grass Valley Union to Sol. A. Shane and Geo. B. Shearer. The paper has come into the hands of practical printers, and the new proprietors will continue its publication as a staunch Union journal. We wish the new proprietors success in the enterprise of establishing a Union paper in Grass Valley." — Nevada Daily Transcript – Thursday, March 2, 1865.

By severing his ties with the paper, H. M. Blumenthal would now be free to also leave the area. Considering the unfriendly treatment he had endured while in Grass Valley, it is not hard to deduce that this more than likely was his intent. With this in mind, finding the name "Henry Meyer Blumenthal" in the voter's register of San Francisco County in 1866 was the next clue in tracking down H. M. Blumenthal. In this same year, it would appear (unless another H. M. Blumenthal was also in San Francisco at this same point in time) that he also ran into some trouble while in San Francisco.

"MURDEROUS ASSAULT — About 7 o'clock last evening an affray occurred on Brannan street between Joseph Flannerty and H.M. Blumenthal, formerly proprietor of the Original House on Sacramento street. As the facts were stated to us, Flannerty had been recently employed by Blumenthal in the laundry business, which the latter is carrying on, and some difficulty occurring, had sued Blumenthal for money alleged to be due him. He was beaten in the suit, and meeting Blumenthal last evening, attacked him with the heavy iron kingbolt of a truck — a bar of iron about eighteen inches in length, weighing some six or eight pounds — and beat him over the head, breaking the skul, and inflicting what is feared will prove fatal wounds. Flannerty was arrested by officers Bernard and Fredericks, and locked up to await the result the injuries inflicted, orders being given not to admit him to bail, owing to the critical condition of Blumenthal." — Daily Alta California – May 24, 1866.

The Sacramento Daily Union chimed in with a follow-up on Blumenthal's condition, stating he was "not so severely injured as was first supposed" in their paper of May 25. But more trouble was lurking in Mr. Blumenthal's near future.

"FOUND GUILTY OF FRAUD. — In the case of H.M. Blumenthal vs. His Creditors, the jury find the defendant guilty of certain specifications of fraud, and not guilty of others. Stay of proceedings for ten days ordered." — Daily Alta California – Aug. 24, 1866.

Another court order that appeared in San Francisco's Daily Alta California issue of Oct. 30, 1866, indicated that Henry M. Blumenthal had been in partnership with John Readymaker in a laundry business operating under the name "Chelsea Laundry."

The 1870 census, upon which Henry appears as "Harry" Blumenthal, age 43, native of either Russia or Prussia, listed his occupation as "none", although he had $10,000 worth of real estate and $800 worth of personal estate at the time. Also in the Blumenthal home in San Francisco were 30-year-old Barbara, a native of Darmstadt and 6-year-old Rosa, whose nativity was entered as California. As this census was enumerated on Aug. 29, 1870, little Rosa would have been approximately one year old at the time of the Feb. 5, 1865 scalding incident at Grass Valley's Temperance Hall, and thereby would have been the appropriate age to have been the child of H. Blumenthal upon whom the soup had been spilled while being held in the arms of a lady (who was most likely the child's mother, and Henry's wife).

Verging upon becoming somewhat of a whipping post, Blumenthal was again attacked on June 27, 1871 which was duly reported by the Sacramento Daily Union the day after the assault:

"Among the San Francisco delegation to the State Convention, H.M. Blumenthal was elected from the Tenth Ward. He was placed upon both tickets, and felt disposed to go for the strongest man. After consultation, he concluded that Booth was the strongest man, and so declared. This coming to the ears of the San Francisco "strikers," a cowardly assault was made upon him last evening int he vicinity of the Ebner Hotel by Bob Cushing, one of the "simon pure" who manipulated the Eighth Ward in San Francisco. He was considerably injured, and much feeling was created among those who believed in fair play. During the evening several delegates from San Francisco, inclined to vote against Selby, were the victims of assault and insult. It is to be hoped that this apecies of "argument" will fail of its object." — Sacramento Daily Union – June 28, 1871.

The clues detected above reveal an individual in San Francisco by the name of Henry Meyer Blumenthal at precisely the same time our H. M. Blumenthal could no longer be found in Nevada County. Henry Meyer, like H. M. was also a family man, and his child was also of similar age. The next clue should provide that Henry Meyer Blumenthal is indeed the person we are seeking, the founder and publisher of The Union.

On May 26, 1876 a grand reunion was held in Nevada County, many were the pioneers of days gone by that attended this magnificent celebration. Within their edition of May 27, 1876, the Sacramento Daily Union ran a lengthy article concerning this joyful gathering. In addition to reporting the names of those in attendance who enjoyed both the various slated events and the sharing of fond memories of Nevada County's yesteryears with their former compatriots, the article went on to list the names and whereabouts of former citizens of Nevada County with whom contact had been made. This list is of utmost importance to our story, as the name H. Blumenthal, followed by his known location at this point in time, confirms that not only was he still in California, but that he was indeed a resident of San Francisco.

The 1880 census has the Blumenthal family still in San Francisco County. This time around they are seen as: Henry M. Blumenthal, age 53, his wife Babette, both listed as natives of Germany, and daughter Rosa, age 16, now listed as a native of Nevada.

Neither Henry, nor Barbara (or Babette) were found on the 1900 census. However, Henry was last noted on the voter register in San Francisco County in 1888. Henry's absence from the 1900 census was not accidental, for it was found that Henry Meyer Blumenthal, who through the above trail of clues also had proven ties to Nevada County, and thereby can be established as the founder of the Grass Valley Daily Union, died in San Francisco on June 21, 1889.

DIED. — BLUMENTHAL – In this city, June 21, Henry M., beloved husband of Babette Blumenthal and father of Rose Blumenthal, a native of Germany, aged 61 years and 5 months." — Daily Alta California – June 24, 1889

Exactly where Henry was placed to rest has not been established, but since he died in San Francisco, he may have been originally interred in San Francisco's Laurel Hill Cemetery. Laurel Hill Cemetery no longer exists, since a 1913 decision of the supervisors declared it a public nuisance. Its demise was at first delayed, but the city voters eventually backed this decision in 1937, which led to this cemetery's being evacuated beginning in 1940. Many of those removed from this cemetery were relocated to Cypress Lawn in Colma, while others were re-buried elsewhere at the direction of their descendants.

The Blumenthal's daughter, Rosa (aka Rose) and Isidor Baer obtained a marriage license in Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 1891. As is a woman's prerogative, she appears to have fudged a little about her true age.

"Isidor Baer, a native of New York, aged 36, a resident of Los Angeles, and Rose Blumenthal , a native of Nevada, aged 24, a resident of San Francisco." — Los Angeles Herald – Oct. 23, 1891.

The Baers were found, he using the first name Joe, 45, she as Rose, 35, as a couple, married nine years, on the 1900 census in Los Angeles. The 1910 census found them, clear across the continent, as residents of Manhattan, New York, a place the couple would call home for the remainder of their lives, all the while having apparently never been blessed with children.

Thus, no direct descendants of Henry Meyer Blumenthal are known to exist.

This research is dedicated to the memory of Henry Meyer Blumenthal, founder of the Grass Valley Daily Union. Although his time with the paper was relatively short, he did indeed succeed in keeping the paper alive in its infancy. May his name now long be remembered as not only the founder, but the hero of the paper that went on to surpass the longevity of all others that ever were put in print in Nevada County.

This research came about while volunteers at the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research were striving to find what had become of the earliest editions of the Grass Valley Daily Union. A diligent and thorough search for these missing early editions was conducted by library volunteers, Kathy Gunning and Alexis Tjoa, not only within the walls of this wonderful library, but outside our community as well. But even with their fine extra efforts, the earliest fifty-four editions are still nowhere to be found. Sparked by the knowledge of some missing history I followed-up with some research to see if some additional history might be restored to the records of our hometown newspaper.

We therefore present to The Union in honor of their 150th anniversary the gift of knowledge pertaining to the founder of its newspaper, first known as the Grass Valley Daily Union.

Donna Reynolds is a volunteer for the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research.

*John Rollin Ridge (aka Yellow Bird) was found on the 1860 census of Marysville, Yuba County, CA with wife, Elizabeth and daughter Alice B. John Rollin Ridge died in Grass Valley, October 5, 1867. Elizabeth A. & Alice B. Ridge remained in Grass Valley, as seen by the 1870 census, but by 1900, they had relocated to Berkeley, Alameda County. Elizabeth, then aged 70 years was residing in the home of Frances G. & Alice B. Beatty, who had been married for 30 years. From the entries on the census, the Beatty's did not have any children. John's widow, Elizabeth Adelaide (Wilson) Ridge died in Grass Valley, Nov. 7, 1905. They are buried in Grass Valley's Greenwood Cemetery, as is their daughter, Alice Bird (Ridge) Beatty.

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