Sonoma Index-Tribune - from Lynch mob to Lynch family
(Editor's note: The Sonoma Index-Tribune, now in its 131st year, has a rich history stretching back to the early days of Sonoma, and that history is peopled with some of the more fascinating figures of the times. That notably includes Harry Granice and his mother, Rowena, a pioneer publisher and author. Harry purchased The Sonoma Index in 1884, but that was after he stood trial for murder.)
Twenty-five-year-old Harry Granice lay face down in the damp dirt, listening in the dark to the hoof beats of the horses carrying the mob of men who were out to kill him.
Although desperately cold, he was thankful for the thick tule fog that kept him invisible to his enemies. He waited long minutes until the sounds faded away and the ground no longer shook before he stood up and stumbled on.
It was the first week of December 1874. Harry was the son of Rowena Granice Steele, editor and co-publisher of the San Joaquin Argus in the town of Merced, which she owned with her husband Robert J. Steele.
Upon the founding of the town of Merced, it was not long before a bitter rivalry developed between the recently founded Merced Express and the Argus, which the Steeles had moved from the village of Snelling to Merced in April 1873, with Harry as printing foreman. Rowena tried to stay out of the feud, concentrating on reporting social events and editorials. In 1859, she had written, "Victims of Fate," the first novel by a woman in California history, along with several short stories. Her novel told the story of the sad decline of an orphaned young woman who fell into the clutches of a drunken lover and died in a frontier house of prostitution. It was a metaphoric morality tale skewering oppression of women, alcoholism and avaricious politicians.
Rowena left on a "book tour" in November 1874, to publicize "Victims of Fate." While she was gone, Edward Madden, the young publisher of the rival Express and the mouthpiece for a clique of incumbent Merced County officials, wrote an editorial critical of Rowena Steele for hawking her book. Madden sniped that Merced families could read her novel to learn the inner workings of a house of ill fame, since "the authoress evidently knows whereof she speaks."
Young Harry confronted Madden in front of a local hotel and demanded a retraction of this slur on his mother's honor. Madden flashed a pistol under Harry's nose and sneered, "This is the only retraction you'll ever get, you sniveling little bastard." Granice, shaking with humiliation and a bout of diverticulitis, slunk away.
Two days later, on Dec. 7 at about 7:30 a.m., publisher Madden was walking along Merced's Front Street with the county auditor. Harry Granice faced them on the plank sidewalk. Before Madden could reach his own weapon, Granice drew a navy revolver from his pocket and pumped five lead balls into Madden, who cried out "oh, God" and died on the spot.
Granice stood as if bewildered by what he had just done, and then walked to the Merced County Sheriff's office to turn himself in. Soon the sheriff, who had the symbolically unfortunate last name of Meany, showed up and thrust him into the jail's single cell and locked the door. Harry could hear the excited voices of a crowd gathering outside. One man tried to shoot at Harry through the barred window, but was stopped by a deputy and disarmed. A friend who visited Harry was told to fetch his younger brother, George, at his place in the country.
Harry asked Sheriff A.J. Meany to bring him before the local justice of the peace, where he could be arraigned. Then Harry would waive a preliminary hearing, and be put on the one o'clock train headed to Modesto where he could be held safe from mob violence. Sheriff Meany did nothing, even after Granice's lawyer showed up and repeated the requests. Brother George arrived and warned Harry that the sheriff was making derogatory remarks about him which were inciting the crowd more than calming them. The train for Modesto came and went.
At 5 p.m. the sheriff suddenly ordered Granice to hurry up and put on his coat, announcing, "Got to get you out of this right now, or they'll be down here in an hour to hang you." Harry was handcuffed and put in a carriage with a driver named Hathaway and part-time Deputy Sheriff Nick Breen. Meany's instruction was to take their prisoner to the Half-Way House inn six miles north of town "and stop."
It became obvious that the sheriff was willing to let the mob lynch Harry so long as it was not his fault. Granice and his two guards made it to the Half-Way House and slept, but before dawn they heard shouts, some lubricated with alcohol, only a hundred yards away. After fumbling for the key, Deputy Breen unlocked the handcuffs. Harry ran out of the inn's back door into the tule fog, and then crawled a thousand yards before he felt safe, at least for the moment.
He decided he would circle around the roadhouse and head back toward Merced, the most unlikely direction his pursuers would expect. So he walked, only able to see a few feet ahead even after dawn, sometimes lost, often stumbling, but dragging on. Several times he heard groups of riders and dropped to the ground. Hungry, thirsty and exhausted, by the time it turned dark he finally sneaked into Merced, where he was fed at a home of friends and learned that his brother and stepfather were hiding out.
That night Harry trudged north again, mainly following the railroad tracks. Along came a hand-car pumped by four Chinese workers carrying a railroad official, who gave him a ride to the Merced River. From there he walked to Chessy Station which had a saloon. Desperately tired and hungry, he entered the barroom where he recognized one friendly face. Harry merely announced he was sick and on his way to Modesto. He downed a glass of brandy, ate dinner and his sole acquaintance arranged a hiding place in a hay barn, while the other men at the station, suspecting he was on the run, swore they would not inform on him. Soon the mob, now led by Sheriff Meany himself, came searching for Harry, but left with nothing. The next day he shook off the hay and with five of the men from the saloon he caught the train to Modesto.
There Harry surrendered at the local sheriff's office, where the deputies were instructed to protect Granice from any mob violence. He was held in the Stanislaus County jail, while in Merced the district attorney drew up an indictment that was approved by the Merced County Grand Jury. Bail was set at $10,000 and put up by a collection of friends. Trial was set for July 1875 in Fresno, removed from the possible prejudice of a Merced jury panel and local judge. The San Joaquin Argus suspended publication for two months, but Rowena and Robert Steele began printing it again in mid-March.
Retained to defend Harry were two local Merced attorneys and his primary counsel, David Terry from Stockton, former chief justice of the California Supreme Court between 1857 and 1859. Terry had personal experience of being charged with murder. Once a power in the state Democratic Party, after defeat for re-election to the court, Terry feuded with Democratic United States Sen. David Broderick, which led to an 1859 duel in which he shot the senator dead. Acquitted on a homicide charge, he joined the Confederate army cavalry in the Civil War.
The newspapers of California were reporting Harry's murder case in detail. In court, Granice's trial counsel, Gen. Jo Hamilton, raised defenses of self-defense (Harry thought Madden was again going for his pistol), temporary insanity (testified to by Rowena) and justifiable homicide due to the deceased's libel of the good name of defendant's saintly mother. Sitting in the courtroom, Rowena Steele broke down and wept openly.
The prosecution's argument, presented by Merced County Deputy District Attorney Russ Ward, a political friend of the sheriff, was that Granice had laid in wait, and without justification shot the victim, proving a simple case of intentional murder.
After three and a half days of trial, Wednesday to Saturday, the jury took only an afternoon to reach its verdict: guilty of murder in the first decree with punishment to be life in prison, sparing defendant Granice from hanging.
In the next issue of the Index-Tribune , Harry Granice continues his struggle, and we learn of the remarkable career of his journalist mother, Rowena Granice Steele, and their impact on Sonoma.
Harry Granice buys the Sonoma Index-Tribune
After his conviction for the murder of Edward Madden, Harry Granice, the future owner of the Index-Tribune, faced a lifetime in San Quentin Prison. His chief attorney, former State Supreme Court Justice David Terry, announced he was filing motions for a new trial and, if that failed, he would appeal the verdict to the state's highest court.
This was more than mere bravado because Terry felt he had a legitimate legal argument. Typical of the casual or careless practice of law in pioneer California, the Merced County District Attorney had drawn up an indictment which fit the elements of manslaughter instead of first degree murder.
That was a significant difference since manslaughter was not a premeditated or malicious act, and the penalty was a relatively short prison term rather than life or the death penalty. So Harry had been tried for murder on an indictment for manslaughter. Before the trial started, the D.A. realized his mistake and inserted words like "malicious" into the margin of the indictment, which was a necessary element of murder in the first degree. This meant Harry had been disadvantaged by having to defend himself against the wrong crime. After the trial judge denied the motion for a new trial, Terry appealed to the California Supreme Court. A few days before Christmas 1875, the Supreme Court reversed the Fresno judge and Harry was granted a new trial.
In July 1875, Harry was again tried for murder, this time based on a properly-drafted indictment. A newly chosen Fresno jury found him guilty of murder.
But Justice Terry had a new legal basis for appeal. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution (one of the Bill of Rights) provided "No person shall ... be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." Terry argued that Granice's second trial for the murder of Madden was "double jeopardy." The D.A. responded that the first trial had only been for manslaughter. Harry's enemies screamed editorially that this killer should not be freed on a legal technicality.
On the first Monday of December 1876, exactly two years after Granice had gunned down Edward Madden, the California Supreme Court ruled that the second trial and conviction in People v. Granice was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment because both trials had been for murder. Now Harry Granice was a free man - and extremely lucky.
In Merced, a much-relieved Rowena Granice Steele was trying to hold the San Joaquin Valley Argus together. It was not the first crisis she had to weather.
Born in New York in 1824, one of several children of the Grannis family, Rowena was educated in New York City schools. In early 1849, when she was 24, Rowena married Thomas N. Claughley, a furniture dealer and a functionary of the city's Tammany Hall Democratic machine. Henry Claughley, called "Harry," was born Dec. 3, 1849.
Rowena was already an actress and by 1851 was playing on Broadway at P. T. Barnum's American Theater, including a lengthy run as the lead in "Yankee Girl." She also played featured roles in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and so-called "temperance" plays.
In May 1853, just before their second son, George Law Claughley, was born, her husband suddenly sailed for California dreaming of quick riches and a chance to join his Tammany friend David Broderick, who had been a gold-seeking 49er elected to the California legislature. Rowena resumed acting, but in 1856 followed her husband, who had stopped sending money, and reached San Francisco in spring 1857. Her arrival was a personal disaster. She found her husband living with an actress and spending much of his time drinking in saloons.
Desperate to earn a living, Rowena boarded out her sons while she toured as an actress and then organized her own theater company in San Francisco. To augment her income, she began to write short stories which she had printed and sold to the culture-starved Californians. Thomas had become nothing more than an obnoxious drunk who claimed he was owed a share of her theater income. His aspiration to gain political influence died the day that United States Sen. Broderick was killed in his duel with David Terry. Thomas Claughley's health showed obvious signs of deterioration and he died of tuberculosis in 1860.
Rowena immediately returned to her maiden name, but altered the spelling to Granice (instead of Grannis either by mistake or design), and also had the last names of Harry and George changed to Granice. This was a way of lopping Claughley from the family tree. Rowena Granice moved to Sacramento, a more sedate city, where she enrolled the boys in a private school while she toured the various gold country venues. She also wrote her novel, "Victims of Fate," and arranged publication in 1858 of a collection of short stories titled, "The Family Gem," including "The Two Wives," a fictionalized account of her encounter with Thomas' mistress.
On June 13, 1861, in an event that changed the direction of her life, but also had a profound effect on California journalism, Rowena Granice married Robert Johnson Steele. Her new husband had been publishing several Gold Country newspapers, including the Placer Courier and the Columbia Gazette. She was 37 and Steele was 38. Thereafter, she always signed her work, Rowena Granice Steele.
In 1862 the Steeles moved to the town of Snelling, briefly the county seat of Merced County, where they published The Snelling Banner on a press bought and carted in from a printer in Stanislaus County. Although Rowena always insisted they were "loyal" to the Union in the midst of the Civil War, husband George, originally from North Carolina, wrote editorials sympathetic to the plight of the South.
In revenge, a troop of 28 Union cavalrymen halted in Snelling in February 1864, broke up their press and tossed all the type out the window, scattering it hopelessly, which put the Banner out of business.
After a hiatus, the Steeles returned to Snelling in 1868 and started a paper which became The San Joaquin Valley Argus. A year later in 1873, the Steeles moved their Argus to the rapidly-growing new county seat of Merced in direct competition with the Merced Tribune, igniting the bitter feud between the two newspapers which led to Harry Granice's shooting the rival editor.
Not long after Harry's legal triumph, his brother George, already a respected poet, began a decline from tuberculosis and died in 1877 at only 24.
Merced was not a healthy place for Harry in 1877. There were enemies who would have liked to impose the hanging justice the state Supreme Court had denied. So he left town to become a printer for the daily San Francisco Bulletin. Two years later, he married Kate Keough from Merced at Old St. Mary's Church in San Francisco. They would have three daughters, Celeste in 1882, Julie in 1884 and Ramona in 1894.
Rowena took on more of the leadership of the Argus, which became a daily in 1886, serving as editor and publisher as well as principal writer, since her husband suffered from prolonged attacks of lung congestion and asthma. She became one of only four women publishers in the state. Two of the others were California's first two female attorneys, whose publications concentrated on women's rights. Increasingly, Rowena became a lecturer and campaigner for women's voting rights, free public schools and temperance, traveling throughout the state.
Robert J. Steele died in 1890 and Rowena transferred the Argus to their only son, Lee Steele, who changed the name to the Merced Sun, which lives on as the daily Merced Sun-Star.
Harry Granice's doctor convinced him that it was unhealthy for him to spend his life hunched over beds of type each day and urged him to move to some rural place with fresh air and daily exercise. He surveyed the possibilities in the greater Bay Area and found that there was a weekly newspaper available for purchase in the town of Sonoma.
The first issue of the Sonoma Index had been published on April 17, 1879, by one Benjamin Frank. Always in shaky financial condition, the Index went through 13 different owners before 1884. The most unusual had been Edward Livernash, a 17-year-old printer and law student, who lasted a year. In 1902, Livernash was elected to a single term in Congress from San Francisco and later was an editorial writer for both the S. F. Bulletin and the New York Times.
One of the prior owners had changed the name of the Index to the Sonoma Tribune so Harry combined the names to the Sonoma Index-Tribune and thus it has remained. He and Kate built a Queen Anne house on East Napa Street (which still stands) for $2,500, and moved the aging Washington press into a spare room, where he laboriously printed each page, which Kate folded.
Rowena Granice Steele, the mother of the journalistic lineage, visited them often and loved Sonoma before her death in 1901. She wrote in the Argus: "Sonoma is naturally a very pretty little town nestling in quiet beauty like a little basin filled with health, wealth and happiness. And it is, I presume, the most moral town in the state."
Life in Sonoma would not always be so idyllic as the new publisher and his family would discover.
Index-Tribune in the 20th century
As the new owner of the weekly Sonoma Index-Tribune, Harry Granice, an energetic five-foot, five-inch bantam cock of a man, plunged ahead in the spirit of his journalist mother, Rowena Granice. Harry was so optimistic that within three years he established a second weekly newspaper, The Weekly San Rafael Independent in Marin County.
While the Index-Tribune prospered under his enthusiasm, the Independent, operated by a lessee, did not. By 1901, it was either close it down or make a dramatic change. Harry determined that his greatest asset was his eldest daughter, Celeste (nick-named Celie), just 21-years-old, who might be the solution.
Celeste Granice was one of the earliest graduates of Sonoma Valley High School, where she wrote for the school paper and contributed items to the I-T. She entered the University of California in Berkeley, majoring in education, but found her way onto the staff of the Daily Californian, the student newspaper, before graduating in 1901.
Little Celeste, wearing a modest high collar shirtwaist and long skirt, with a stylish flowered hat on her head, sat at her roll-top desk at the Independent, and quickly proved she had inherited her grandmother Rowena's journalistic DNA. It was no easy task, with two competing Marin newspapers, including the venerable Marin Journal. She personally made the rounds of businesses selling advertising, soliciting subscriptions and bidding for printing jobs. Much of the news and all of the editorials were her work. Soon she turned the newspaper into a daily, substantially increasing its value.
In late 1903, Harry sold the Independent, which continued its success. In 1948 it absorbed The Marin Journal, and changed its masthead to The Marin Independent-Journal. For a time, Celeste became the Marin correspondent for crusading editor Fremont Older's San Francisco Bulletin (incidentally, where my grandmother, Edith Storrs, had been the staff's proof reader), covering San Quentin Prison among other reporting beats.
Harry had developed the Index-Tribune into an influential community newspaper, but he needed help. He brought the precocious Celeste back as associate editor. She did not stay long. In 1905, in a wedding at the Granice home, she was married to building contractor Walter L. Murphy, who had apprenticed as a printer during his boyhood in Illinois. After San Francisco was devastated by the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, the Murphys moved to the city where there was a wealth of reconstruction work. Celeste wrote articles for San Francisco papers and national magazines. That same year Kate Granice died suddenly, leaving her husband to run the I-T virtually alone.
In the pages of the Index-Tribune, Harry Granice championed civic improvement, particularly a municipal water company backed by public bonds. In 1900, the water bond failed by a margin of six votes. In 1902, Harry published a special issue promoting the benefits of Sonoma Valley. That same year he displayed a streak of his old temper when he punched the Sonoma City Clerk (a man), pled guilty to assault and was fined $5.
The Index-Tribune was modernizing from hand-setting all copy, one metal letter at a time, to the use of the Linotype machine in which molds of each letter were impressed upon hot lead to form lines of type which stacked up to form columns. The Index-Tribune moved its printing press out of the Granice's home to a building in back, and eventually to offices on West Napa Street.
Beginning in 1889, Granice had competition from The Sonoma Valley Expositor newspaper. One test of the relative influence of the two papers was the "local option" referendum of 1912, in which the voters could decide whether to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages in the Valley under a 1911 state law. The Expositor was an advocate of the prohibitionist "drys," while Granice was an uncompromising "wet." The "wets" won handily.
Harry was proven right on another major issue when the 1911 downtown fire validated his repeated denunciations of the inadequacy of water from private companies and wells.
Never physically robust, by 1915 the 66-year-old Harry was tired and not well. The printing machinery needed upgrading, but he let it slide. And, after nearly a decade since he had lost his Kate, he was lonely. That year, he precipitously married a much younger San Francisco woman, pretty Grace Bonner. Harry died two months later, but not until he had executed a will which left everything to Grace, including the Index-Tribune.
The Granice daughters, Celeste, Julie and Ramona were devastated, not just because they lost their anticipated inheritance, but by the probable passage of the Index-Tribune into uncaring hands and terminating the family's journalistic heritage. The legal position of the new Mrs. Granice was strong and it became obvious that there was only one practical solution.
To the rescue came Celeste and husband Walter Murphy, who used their savings and money borrowed from friends to acquire the paper from the estate of its creator. The youngest sister, Ramona, just 21, had recently married Mendocino County horse breeder and surveyor, Ernest G. Lynch. In the early 1930s, she would work for the I-T as a reporter, selling ads and even operating the Linotype machine prior to her death in 1937.
Celeste took over the editorial side while Walter handled advertising and managed the printing. Mrs. Murphy picked up her father's theme of civic improvement in pointed editorials, continuing the drive for municipal water, after defeats in 1915 and 1917, and finally succeeding in 1934. The Index-Tribune was out front in support of street paving, Plaza improvements, funding for the "Blackpoint Cutoff" (now Highway 37), support for constructing the Golden Gate Bridge and preservation of historic buildings. The Murphys favored repeal of Prohibition (1920-33), particularly since Sonoma Valley was over-run with bootleggers, bad booze and even criminals like the famed "Baby-Face" Nelson.
The fiscally shrewd Murphys were able to pay off the loans, buy the opposition Expositor and purchase a press, which printed 1,000 four-page sheets an hour, replacing the old dinosaur. In future years, the I-T would keep up with modern developments, making major upgrades in 1954, the 1970s and 1990s.
Celeste was active in the Sonoma Valley Woman's Club (her mother Kate had been its first president), the Sonoma Valley Historical Society and the League of California Penwomen. Walter served as Sonoma's postmaster during the 1930s. Celeste wrote a charming history of early day Sonoma, People of the Pueblo, first published in 1937. She urged re-inauguration of the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival in 1947, was its director for three years, and wrote the script of an historic tableau performed several times.
Putting their money where their beliefs were, in 1937 the Murphys bought the historic Sonoma Barracks from merchant Solomon Schocken to save it from deterioration or demolition. They made necessary repairs and then turned the upstairs into a highly livable apartment, moved in and stayed for the rest of their lives, eventually giving it to the State of California, in return for a life tenancy.
In 1945, at the close of World War II, they began thinking of retirement. They hoped that when the time came, the newspaper they had nurtured would remain in the family. But the Murphys had no children. Looking for the closest relative to be prepared to take the helm, their nephew, Robert M. Lynch, the son of Ramona, appeared to be the natural choice. Having grown up in Mendocino and Alameda, he had settled in Sonoma in 1938 and entered Santa Rosa J.C. He soon met Jean Helen Allen, the attractive secretary of the town's leading attorney, A. R. Grinstead. They were married in 1941. A year later he enlisted in the Navy, winding up as a naval intelligence officer after attending midshipman school at Cornell University, where he was editor of the class magazine.
With the family's printer's ink in his veins, Bob was accepted at the University of Oregon for his remaining two years as a journalism major for the fall 1946.
Celeste and Walter felt they deserved to cut back after laboring almost alone during the war years, assisted by the tireless work of printer Henry Steck. They put it bluntly to the young Lynches: If Bob would not help them now and prepare to take over in a few years, they would sell the newspaper to the highest bidder. It was an offer Bob and Jean could not refuse. He broke in at a whopping $33 a week. Three years, later the Lynches bought the I-T from his aunt and uncle for a down payment of funds acquired by cashing in war bonds and a promissory note. The Murphys had a chance to enjoy their retirement, both living until 1966.
Robert Lynch was publisher and editor for almost 54 years, and was still writing almost up to his death in 2003. During his tenure the I-T went from eight broadsheet pages to often more than 40, and in 1985 to two editions a week. Starting in 1953, the newspaper and its growing staff began receiving a record-breaking number of annual awards given by newspaper associations for many categories including overall best weekly in California, display advertising, editorial pages, photography, page design, news and feature stories.
Bob and Jean Lynch produced three sons: Bill, Jim and John. After graduation from U.C. Santa Barbara, and serving as a naval officer in the Vietnam War, Bill joined the staff in 1969. Jim also graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara and then took a graduate year in journalism at University of Nevada, before coming to the I-T. John graduated from the University of the Pacific where he was editor of the school newspaper, The Pacifican. He joined the I-T as sports editor, twice winning state awards. He struck out for a journalism career on his own, going to work for the Marin Independent-Journal, but sadly died young.
Today, Bill and Jim are co-publishers of the I-T, Bill is also editor-in-chief and Jim is CFO. Passing through the rabbit warren of offices, the walls and shelves loaded with old photographs, yellowing clippings, stacks of books and papers, as well as people working in cubicles filled with computers, telephones, and layouts, one feels the great journalistic tradition that Rowena Granice spawned--including three existing newspapers - that is embodied in The Sonoma Index Tribune.
Our special thanks to scholar/author Priscilla Stone Sharp of State College, Pennsylvania, who generously shared with us her research on the life and times of Rowena Granice Steele, including transcripts of the trials and appeals of Harry Granice.