Word Count 1,921
It felt good sitting in a nice quiet saloon with my old man, sipping a cold beer. Murdoch had insisted I tag along with him an’ Scott to a cattleman’s meeting in Sacramento, and oh boy, was it a trial. All those big shot ranchers boasting or complaining and every one of them wanting their voice to be heard in the meetings.
I caught Murdoch’s eye and we smiled at each other.
“You lasted the course well, son. There was a moment when I thought you would bolt for the door.”
“I know Tim Philips is a friend of yours, but he does like the sound of his own voice.”
Murdoch shook his head. “His heart is in the right place, but he can run his mouth off, especially after a drink.”
“He sure tested my patience.”
“And mine Johnny, and mine.”
We shared a toast and finished our beers in a comfortable silence.
When the saloon doors swung open, instinct kicked in and my hand went to my gun. The sunlight at the newcomer’s back cast him as a silhouette, but lit his hair as golden as those mission saints I’d seen painted.
“It’s your round, Scott,” I shouted across to him, then saw a fella following him in; not a cattleman, but a suited and booted townsman. Scott had that look he gets when he thinks he has a winning poker hand.
“Murdoch, Johnny, I’d like you to meet Mr James McClatchy, the editor of the Daily Bee.”
Murdoch was on his feet gripping the man’s hand with a big grin all over his face. “James, it’s good to see you.”
I sat and waited, giving the man a good long look. He was maybe a few years younger than Murdoch, had a well-fed look about him, wasn’t wearing a gun, and he was as pleased as punch to be shaking Murdoch’s hand.
This McClatchy fella held his hand out to me. “You must be Johnny. It’s good to meet you.”
I looked at his hand, then into his face and saw that flicker in his eyes; I do have that ability to make any man, righteous or not, pause.
Scott cleared his throat. I smiled and shook hands. “Mr McClatchy.”
Just ‘cos a man knows Murdoch doesn’t make them trustworthy. I could list a few starting with Harlan Garrett and Joe Barker. A man as successful as my father doesn’t get to be a top dog without making enemies. And me; I’ve met a few newspapermen I don’t have a high opinion of.
Four beers arrived. Scott paid and the three of them all took a drink.
It was McClatchy who broke the silence. “I went to find you, Murdoch, at the meeting, and found your son instead.”
Scott still had that winning hand look. “Mr McClatchy’s newspaper is going to print a story about the Cattlemen’s meeting and wants to feature the Lancers.”
I let out a breath, locking eyes with this stranger to me. “Not this Lancer.” I pushed my beer away.
“Johnny, it’ll be good publicity for us and a chance to get our views about the water rights and rail expansion issues out there to the wider public.” Scott was leaning forward, his enthusiasm for doing this blazing in his eyes.
I shook my head. “Nope.”
Before Scott could start in on me, Murdoch stepped in. “James, why us Lancers?”
Now that was a question I wanted an answer to. McClatchy looked from me to Murdoch. “One of my reporters filed a story and before I run it, I wanted to speak to you.”
I wasn’t surprised at the look on Murdoch’s face or the anger in his voice. “You’re going to publish a story about Madrid.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
McClatchy shook his head, “My reporter told me it was common gossip at the meeting that both your sons had returned and had helped fight off the land pirates.” He looked at me. “It is being said Johnny Lancer is Johnny Madrid.”
I smiled. “I don’t keep it a secret. Murdoch and Scott, they both know some of who I was.”
Murdoch’s hand reached over to rest on my shoulder. “James, you know my history and have respected my privacy. Why now?”
I snorted. “Hell, Murdoch—to sell his paper; it’s just good business.”
McClatchy held his hand up. “No, son, the Bee is not in the business of publishing wild stories about Johnny Madrid. But I expect word will get out to the dime novels and I wanted to warn you.”
I sat back. Maybe James McClatchy wasn’t out to trade on my name. There seemed to be some history and respect between him and Murdoch. I shrugged to release tension ‘cos I know talking about my reputation causes Murdoch to get all bear-like. “Since Day Pardee got himself killed and the Warburton fracas, news that Johnny Madrid is trading as a rancher is being talked about. The border town pistoleros and outlaws don’t need to read about me in your newspaper.”
I looked over at Scott. “What your newspaper could write about is what Scott said, about how to manage water rights, or get the balance between what ranchers and farmers need and what growing towns need. Heck, Scott will make for a good story with his Harvard education and army service. He even photographs well. I bet folks will take notice of what he has to say.”
Scott made a sort of growling noise and frowned. Boy, he sure does look like Murdoch with that face on.
“Hey, just ‘cos I have my eyes closed at those meetings don’t mean my ears are closed as well. But ain’t I right in thinking that writing about Madrid will distract from our concerns?”
McClatchy nodded his agreement. “You are correct. That’s a very good point There are some powerful people who would rather the full glare of the free press didn’t shine on their underhand methods that they sell as progress.”
Murdoch was running his hand through his hair like he does when he’s about to issue an order, so I held my breath.
“Scott, would you be willing to represent Lancer and give an interview? I trust James will not allow his newspaper to descend to the level of a dime novel and give you a fair hearing.”
I grinned. “Go on, Scott, me and Murdoch trust you to put all those fancy five-dollar words of yours to good use.”
He reached over to swipe at me. I let him.
After Scott and Mr McClatchy left I sat back and drank my beer. I’m getting better at reading Murdoch and knew he was watching and waiting for me to tell him about my dealings with newspapermen and dime novels. He sure is getting better at being patient with me.
I sighed. “Okay…when I was starting at the gun fighting trade I was nothing but a skinny kid looking to make my reputation.” I tried a grin and thought it was too bad I couldn’t find a reason to stick ‘Pa’ into my telling.
“When I first showed up in the dime novels I was flattered, thinking it would help build my reputation. I had let a couple of newspaper men buy me drinks and we got to talking, boy, they sure could exaggerate. I soon found out life ain’t like the stories they wrote about me. First off, them that hired me wanted me to be that black-hearted desperado and that didn’t always sit easy. Second off, when I did act up to that publicity, I managed to piss off folks who were friends.”
Murdoch reached over and patted my hand. “You were too young for that life, to have to deal with the danger notoriety focused on you.”
“Yeah, probably. There were a couple of good folks who let me know I was getting too big for my boots, told me to stop believing the fiction before they had to rescue me from being a dead dime novel hero.”
“That was Val Crawford, was it son?”
I grinned. “Yep, that man doesn’t use five-dollar words when a clip around the ear will do.”
We both smiled. It’s a comfort knowing Murdoch accepts my friendship with Val without being too nosey about our history.
“Anyways, I learned the hard way not to believe everything that’s written down.”
Murdoch nodded. “I, too, have learned to be selective about what I read.”
I reckoned he was talking about those Pinkerton reports he has under lock and key in his desk.
“Can he be trusted?”
“I trust James, and when Scott returns I will tell you both how I met him. He is a true Californian. He has lived a full life, and he believes in reporting the truth.”
We raised our glasses again. I decided to ease off on my misgivings about newspapermen and trust my father’s faith in the Sacramento Bee.
Under the name The Daily Bee, the first issue of the newspaper was published on February 3, 1857, proudly boasting that “the object of [the Sacramento Bee] is not only independence, but permanence”. At this time, the Bee was in competition with the Sacramento Union, a newspaper founded in 1851. Although the Bee soon surpassed the Union in popularity, the Union survived until its closing in 1994, leaving the Sacramento Bee to be the longest-running newspaper in Sacramento’s history.
Born in 1824 in Ireland, McClatchy was a young journalist on the editorial staff of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune in 1848, when news of a gold strike on Northern California’s American River reached the East. Taking the advice of his employer, who famously declared “Go west, young man,” McClatchy went west.
After an arduous journey that included a shipwreck in Baja California, McClatchy reached the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada. His short-lived endeavor at mining, however, brought him no wealth.
Returning to journalism, he took a position in the summer of 1849 with the Placer Times, which was published at Sutter’s Fort, the settlement that gave rise to the river port town of Sacramento, California. As an editorialist, McClatchy developed a reputation as a people’s champion after he took a stand against land speculators in what would evolve into the 1850 Squatters’ Riot.
By fall of the next year, McClatchy was editing his own Settlers and Miners Tribune, which survived only a few weeks. He moved on to work for the Sacramento Transcript, the Democratic State Journal and the Sacramento Times before joining founder Rollin Ridge at the fledgling Sacramento Bee. Less than a week after the new paper appeared in 1857, McClatchy had become its editor. That same week, The Bee reported a scandal that led to the impeachment of California State Treasurer Henry Bates.
Known as a supporter of the people’s interests against those of corporations and corrupt politicians, McClatchy made The Bee a bastion of progressive reformism. Upon his death in 1883, the paper’s leadership passed to James’s sons, Charles and Valentine.
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