For more than a century, Malheur Enterprise has chronicled local life

By Les Zaitz

The Enterprise

Vale was a booming town a hundred years ago, judging by the first edition of the Malheur Enterprise.

Oil was a big thing. So were sheep. And visiting businessmen were buying up land and more businesses.

And in the midst of all this, the Enterprise was born. I got curious about our beginnings. Thanks to a special collection at the University of Oregon, I could easily step back to a Saturday in November when the first Malheur Enterprise hit the streets.

The date was Nov. 20, 1909. Not many entities last 100 years, but here we are. What got us started?

The paper shows B.M. Stone was manager and J.J. McGrath was editor. According to “History of Oregon Newspapers,” a mining promoter known as Major L.H. French provided the financial backing.

“The principal reason for the existence of the Malheur Enterprise is the furtherance of the interests of this city, this county and the whole portion of the great state of Oregon,” the founders said in their first edition.

The Enterprise noted how the area was bountiful in fruit, agriculture and oil – “a supply station in many respects for the millions in this country and others.”

Merchants advertising in that first Enterprise didn’t hesitate to beat their promotional drum. Drexel Drug Co. offered “the largest assortment of practical holiday gifts ever seen in Eastern Oregon.” The Vale Trading Co. claimed it was “the largest department store in Eastern Oregon.”

Vale Hot Springs wasn’t bashful, either. The local spa said it was “conceded by medical men of the whole northwest to be the greatest health-giving resort on the Pacific Coast.”

Malheur Clothing Co. offered suits $18 to $30 and the Vale Bakery and Candy Kitchen said it had pies cakes and “chocolates fresh daily.” Oh, to have that business back in operation. I’d have a permanent seat.

News of the day was no less colorful. One story told of a hobo keeping a young boy captive following the shooting of a night watchman. Police surrounded the cabin but the hobo wouldn’t give up.

“Efforts were made to dope some food sent into the cabin by the pursuers,” the Enterprise reported. The captor made the boy taste the food first. The lad eventually escaped and his kidnapper shot to death.

Then there was a civil case tried in local court. Three jurors were summoned, two were excused, so the case was decided by a lone juror. He ruled for the plaintiff. The story remarked that the verdict probably was helped along by “the dropping of a .44-caliber revolver from the pocket of the defendant while he was on the witness stand.”

In other news, Malheur Oil & Gas Company reported oil sand at 1,500 feet at Sand Hollow, the Eldorado Ditch was sold to “upper Willow Creek people” and the first baby was born in the “promising” city of Brogan. A suggestion to name the girl Brogana apparently didn’t fly.

The paper hints at other journalistic history in the town. Its masthead said it was the Malheur Enterprise “and Vale Plaindealer.” So far, I’ve found no record of what likely was a predecessor merged into the Enterprise. The Plaindealer of Vale, if it existed, probably was founded by someone connected to Cleveland, home of the still-going Plaindealer daily newspaper.

The Enterprise apparently was a lively publication. “History of Oregon Newspapers” describes “screaming headlines, red-hot editorials and a general booster spirit.”

The paper, though, had its serious side.

“It will be the organ of the whole people of the community,” it said in a first-edition statement. “While being absolutely independent of parties and cliques of every tradition, it will strive to obtain and hold the confidence of the population as a whole and individually.”

Now, 107 years later, the Enterprise won’t deviate from that ambition.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise