Vigilante Newspapers

Tales of sex, religion, and murder in the northwest

Gerald J. Baldasty

  • $30.00s paperback (9780295985299) Add to Cart
  • hardcover not available
  • Published: 2005
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Film and Media Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 192 pp., 20 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

This riveting work of social history documents the role the news media played in spurring two murders revolving around Edmund Creffield, a charismatic "Holy Roller" evangelist who arrived in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1903 and quickly enraged the citizenry by defiantly challenging the religious and sexual mores of the time. When ardent female followers began refusing to speak to their nonbelieving husbands, vigilantes tarred and feathered Creffield, eventually forcing him to flee to Seattle.

Once there, Creffield was murdered by George Mitchell, the brother of one of his followers. The news media in Seattle and Oregon applauded George's defense of his sister Esther's honor, influencing the jury. Citing temporary insanity, the jury quickly acquitted George, pleasing the cheering crowds and the approving media. As George prepared to return to Oregon, however, Esther shot him point-blank at Union Station and another moralizing media frenzy broke out. Esther was sent to Western State Hospital and committed suicide after her release. Her short life was among the most poignant of the dozens wrecked by the controversy.

Gerald Baldasty's examination of Seattle and Oregon media coverage shows the tenacity with which frontier media protected traditional mores, particularly the notion that men are responsible for women's purity and have the right to take action if they feel another man has besmirched a woman's honor. Expertly crafted in a brisk, accessible style, Vigilante Newspapers illustrates through the tragic tale of Edmund Creffield, George Mitchell, and Esther Mitchell how the news media defined social deviance using vague concepts such as hysteria and temporary insanity, vigorously defending the established order of religious, class, and gender norms.
Gerald Baldasty is chair and professor of communication and adjunct professor of women studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of E.W. Scripps and the Business of Newspapers.

"An outstanding book on a compelling sequence of events, told in a fashion that is at once engaging and full of implication for the broader history of the media and gender roles."
-John Nerone, author of Violence Against the Press: Policing the Public Sphere in U.S. History

"This is a powerful and instructive story of how intolerant and sensational newspapers in Corvallis and Seattle encouraged vigilante violence, murder, and lawlessness toward an Oregon religious cult. The author places multiple tragedies that befell Edmund Creffield and his mostly female followers in the context of important changes under way in the urban and community press in the twentieth century."
-Steve Ponder, author of Managing the Press: Origins of the Media Presidency, 1897-1933

1. Collision Course
2. The Shame of Corvallis
3. Weak Women
4. The Press Proclaims a Hero
5. Defending George Mitchell
6. Second Thoughts
7. Unforgiven
8. News and Values

"No one who reads this book can doubt the power of the press to affect public opinion, the rule of law, or vigilantism."
-Western Historical Quarterly

"Baldasty presents some newspaper history, insights into the news media's role in society, and a snapshot of early 20th-century cultural mores, all within a lively story about news coverage of two related murders. Rarely does one encounter such a compelling contextualization of journalism history and media sociology. Baldasty writes for the general reader without losing sight of underlying scholarly issues. Highly recommended."

"An absorbing and fascinating read, as instructive as it is macabre."
-Klamath Herald and News

"Baldasty's study carefully weaves together societal and media values in the face of dramatic and at times bizarre religious practices. It is good scholarship and a good yarn."
-Oregon Historical Quarterly